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The five-time world champion describes himself as “semi-retired” when it comes to the sport these days, despite a clear desire from fans for him to carry on. Known for his unpredictable temperament and audacious views, the Rocket has come under fire from snooker’s governing body for his actions over the past. Despite this, the 44-year-old has been honest about his relationship with the sport, admitting previously that he “regrets ever playing snooker” adding “I’d probably have been happier doing something outside with an adrenalin buzz”.

He has battled all his life with addiction, something that threatened to derail his career many moons ago, but he turned his life around channelling that into something good – running and eating healthily.

But there was one time the potting maestro even considered skipping a match to stretch his legs.

During the quarter-finals of the Northern Ireland Trophy in 2007, O’Sullivan’s mind was on a cross-country race. 

He told INTERSPORT Running: “I’d just beat Ali Carter, had five centuries and one of them was a 147.

“I remember we had the Met League, it might have been one of our home races, I’m not sure, but wherever it was I was going to go.  

“I was thinking ‘that’s on Saturday and if I win my next match it means I’ll not be able to race.’

“It was really doing my head in. Even though I was training with the local running club in Ireland, it was fantastic, but there was no feeling like racing.”

O’Sullivan went on to detail how the saga unravelled.

He added in May: “I told the guy this and he said there was an Irish cross country race going on and I could run in that. 

“All the leagues seemed to run at the same time, the same weekend. 

“I went and bought myself a pair of spikes and quickly learned that if I couldn’t do a race that was local to me, I could just go and run races if I was in Wales, Scotland or Ireland.

“There was a point where I was starting to think ‘maybe I’ll just lose this match and get home and do the race that I wanted to do.’”

O’Sullivan did lose his next match, an upset defeat to Irishman Fergal O’Brien, although there is certainly no suggestion he acted on his thoughts and gave up on the game.  

O’Sullivan has spoken openly about this stage of his career before, telling The Way of the Runner podcast: “I was thinking, ‘try and lose,’ and I did a couple of times, not deliberately, but I just went for one too many shots thinking, ‘I don’t actually care’. 

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“Then it was actually starting to get in the way of my snooker, which is not great, really. 

“Knowing how obsessive I am, running became more important than snooker, because I valued it so much.”

O’Sullivan does not run competitively any more, putting that distraction from his snooker career behind him as he looks to bag his sixth World Championship title this summer.

O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui meet in the second round tonight, the third time they will have played at the Crucible, with each man winning one of their previous encounters.

Ding left Sheffield victorious in the 2017 quarter-finals, but he has never gone on to lift the trophy.

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