Ding Junhui won’t be a ‘slave’ to snooker and I respect that – Ronnie O’Sullivan

Ronnie O’Sullivan has hailed his second-round opponent Ding Junhui for resisting the temptation to turn into a ‘snooker slave’ as the Chinese star continues to chase an elusive first world crown at the Crucible.

O’Sullivan has been a big fan of Ding since they first met in the 2005 Masters quarter-final and sees shades of himself in the way the 33-year-old is coping the expectations of millions of supporters in his homeland.

O’Sullivan said: “If Ding looks at his career over all, he’ll say he’s probably got a great balance – he’s been super successful on the table, but he hasn’t been a slave to the sport.

Betway UK Championship – Day Twelve – York Barbican
Betway UK Championship – Day Twelve – York Barbican

“Everyone has a different way of approaching snooker, be it [Stephen] Hendry or [Steve] Davis, or a Jimmy White, who managed to enjoy himself and still compete.

“I’m a little bit in that bracket where I like to enjoy my life, so I probably don’t practise as much as I should and I probably don’t enter as many tournaments as I should to get the best out of myself.

“But for me there’s always a trade-off. I like to be healthy, live a good lifestyle and that means I can’t play in every tournament otherwise my lifestyle wouldn’t be how I’d want it.

On This Day in 2012: Stephen Hendry makes break of 147 at the Crucible
On This Day in 2012: Stephen Hendry makes break of 147 at the Crucible

“Ding probably falls into that category as well. He gets really excited by the really big tournaments, but probably doesn’t want to be on the road 24/7. He drives his own car in many ways, and I respect that.”

Ding won the pair’s last Crucible clash in the last eight in 2017 but, despite reaching the final in 2016 and winning 14 other ranking titles, he is still yet to win the sport’s ultimate prize.

The pair’s first-round wins could hardly have proved more contrasting, with O’Sullivan breezing to 10-1 win over Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in record time, while Ding was pushed to the limit by veteran qualifier Mark King.

Ding Junhui
Ding Junhui

And, while O’Sullivan is convinced Ding is more than capable of going all the way at the Crucible, he also warned him that time is running out if he wants to finally realise the dreams of millions of Chinese snooker fans.

“I’m sure he’d love to get his hands on the world title, but each year you get older, it gets harder,” added O’Sullivan.

“Some players can play well into their 40s like me and [John] Higgins and the [Mark] Williams of the world, but we’re exceptions to the rule.

“For a lot of the players in that 30 upwards bracket, now is the time for them to make sure they get their hands on the important titles like the Masters, the UKs and the worlds.

“Ding has done pretty well, and I think he has handled the pressure well. He has won the Masters and the UK, but for someone of Ding’s ability he is obviously capable of winning a lot more.”