Raving runner Ronnie O’Sullivan raced into the Northern Ireland Open second round but insists breaking his 10km record is his No.1 priority, writes Will Jennings.
The Rocket had lift off against world No.82 Jamie O’Neill as visits of 127, 60 and 57 propelled him into the last 64 and sealed his 17th consecutive first round win at a Home Nations event.
Six-time world champion O’Sullivan has swapped potting for pavement pounding in recent times, however, broadening his horizons as he lost two stone during lockdown on a gruelling fitness regime.
Snooker is subservient to his newfound passion and O’Sullivan, chasing a 38th ranking event title, admits stopping the 10km clock in record time is at the top of his agenda.
The world No.2, who beat O'Neill 4-1, said: “Winning against a player outside the top 64 is harder than beating top players these days because in best of seven, they go out there swinging and invariably get the rub of the green.
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) November 16, 2020
“You have to fight for everything out there because otherwise you’re on a hiding to nothing.
“My aim over the next month is just to focus on my running and do some good running. It’s a bit hard just focusing on snooker every tournament so you’ve got to try and find something that you love doing. For me, it’s the running so I’m keen to get my times down.
“I don’t want to set myself up for a huge fall but I’d like to get back to somewhere where I was ten years ago, where I was running 34 minutes for 10km.
“There’s still a long way to go but I suppose you’ve got to aim for something.
“I ran eight miles this morning in 57 minutes so I’m getting fitter. I’m going to try and do an easy five tomorrow and then go for a ten miler on Wednesday.”
Lowly-ranked O’Neill did make a third-frame break of 66 but three fluent frames from O’Sullivan, 44, blew him away in Milton Keynes.
And the result continued the Rocket’s remarkable record of never losing a first round match at a Home Nations event, despite the best-of-seven format frequently throwing up surprises.
"You just have to avoid getting big cake sploshed in your face" 🧁
The first hurdle is never easy...
BUT O'Sullivan has never lost first round match at a #HomeNations event, since the series began in 2016 😮 #NIOpen pic.twitter.com/KPY8gg8yRd
— World Snooker Tour (@WeAreWST) November 16, 2020
Top 16 players Shaun Murphy and Jack Lisowski slumped to first round defeats on Monday and O’Sullivan, who lost 9-7 to world No.1 Judd Trump in the last two finals of the Northern Ireland Open, was relieved to avoid a ‘cake in the face’.
“Winning the match tonight, it’s not like I’ve won anything really and you just have to avoid getting a big cake sploshed in your face,” he added.
“Any result against a player that’s lower-ranked in the tour, they’re just super excited to be there. He doesn’t care if he loses and if he wins, fantastic.
“You’ve just got to avoid the cake in the face as much as you can, as there are a lot of cakes in the face on this tour.”