Ronnie O’Sullivan admitted he felt “butchered and exhausted” after last week’s Scottish Open, but the Rocket recovered in time to beat Ali Carter 4-1 in the first round of the matchroom World Grand Prix.
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O’Sullivan suffered a 9-3 reverse against Mark Selby in Sunday’s Scottish Open final and is now playing his sixth tournament within two months. The 45-year-old insists his powers of recovery are not as strong as they were in his younger days, but his array of skills remain intact and he outplayed Carter to set up a second round match with Barry Hawkins in Milton Keynes on Wednesday night.
World Champion O’Sullivan has now beaten Essex rival Carter in 15 of their 16 career meetings.
Carter started brightly with a break of 112 to take the opening frame, only for O’Sullivan to hit back with a 105 for 1-1. Frame three proved crucial as Carter, leading 52-44, missed the pink after potting the last red. His opponent punished him with a 20 clearance which included excellent pots on the blue and pink.
In the fourth, Carter was 38-57 down when he missed the last red along a side cushion with the rest, and again O’Sullivan took advantage to go 3-1 ahead. A run of 57 in the next saw world number three O’Sullivan past the finish line.
“Ali missed a lot of balls tonight, more than he usually would,” said O’Sullivan, who is yet to win a title this season. “When you are struggling at this game, your timing goes and anything is missable. It’s a confidence game – when you are confident you can attack the balls.
“Yesterday I was absolutely butchered, I felt exhausted. I don’t have the energy that I had years ago, I have noticed that whenever I reach a final it takes me two or three days to feel as if I want to do anything. After the World Championship it took ten days. I don’t have the stamina that I used to have, it takes me longer to recover.
“I am playing a few more tournaments this season but it’s better for me not to go deep in all of them, I can use 50 per cent of them for practice, to sharpen up for the tastier tournaments – the ones that get the juices flowing. One year I won everything and I was miserable because I was playing too many matches. The key for me is to stay fresh, stay hungry, enjoy my life and fit snooker in around my life.”
Looking ahead to his next match against Hawkins, O’Sullivan added: “Barry is a great cueist – if I could hit the ball half as well as him I would be over the moon. He is so consistent and so clinical with his technique. We have had some fantastic matches. The world final in 2013 (which O’Sullivan won 18-12) was as well as I can play, I was flying and I couldn’t shake him off. I will enjoy that match.”
Yan Bingtao beat David Grace 4-3 in a marathon battle which lasted three hours and 14 minutes. Grace came from 3-1 down to 3-3 and had a chance for victory in the decider, but in potting the green he lost position on the brown. A safety tussle on the blue was resolved when China’s Yan thumped home an excellent long pot to a baulk corner and he added the pink to seal the result.
Martin Gould made a tremendous comeback from 3-0 down to beat Mark Allen 4-3. World number ten Allen made a tournament-high break of 142 in taking the first three frames. But the match turned in the fourth when Gould fluked the final brown to get back to 3-1. The Londoner won two more scrappy frames for 3-3 then dominated the decider with runs of 43 and 59.
“I never felt involved in the match, I didn’t think I could win until the last ball,” admitted European Masters runner-up Gould, who now meets Lu Ning. “I was getting agitated with myself because I know how well have been playing but I am not showing it on the match table. I told myself to knuckle down because Mark was missing a few so I knew I would get chances. Hopefully tomorrow I can come out all guns blazing and make some bigger breaks.”