My lunch with one of the most talented and complicated champions in the world takes place at Roka, a Japanese fusion restaurant crowded with diners who chat and eat at their employer’s expense on Canary Wharf in London. Ronnie O’Sullivan, current billiard champion for the fifth time in a row, has already eaten here several times. “It’s close to home and it’s really good,” says the 37-year-old champion with a slight accent of Essex. He examines with interest a tiger shrimp hulled on a plate, en route to a table nearby.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, nicknamed “The Rocket” because of the fabulous speed with which he can blow up a constellation of balls on a pool table, is according to many the most talented player in the history of this sport. Who else could win, as he did in May, the world championship in Sheffield, the most prestigious tournament, when he had not played professionally for 12 months? Imagine a Roger Federer taking a sabbatical year and winning Wimbledon by returning to classes.
Like many, I’m interested in American billiards rather by far, but am a big fan of Ronnie: he is the great chance of this game, an offshoot of the big time when this sport attracted up to eighteen million viewers to see Alex Higgins play “Hurricane” and Jimmy White “Tourbillon”. But I think of our lunch with some trepidation. My guest has a well deserved reputation for being unmanageable. On some occasions, he seems to hate the game for which he is so extraordinarily talented.
The week of our lunch, a new incident occurred. Ronnie O’Sullivan hinted that specializing in American billiard games could be common, before retracting a few days later. “Everybody knows,” he said, half-heartedly, after winning the World Championship final, “I go up and down like a whore’s panties.”
Today, he is kind and relaxed, more relaxed than his turbulent personality does not let hope. He orders as fast as he plays. “Shrimp already shelled, do you know what I mean?”, He asks the waiter, before turning to me; “We liked it when we saw it, did not we? You would like what else? Meat, fish? “Anything, I answer, as long as it does not contain pineapple.
“OK,” he said to the waiter, “we’re going to settle for seafood, with cod. Cod is good here, it’s black cod, right? Do we take that? Do you like rice? “Ronnie O’Sullivan’s mother is an Italian from Birmingham and I detect something of her in her eagerness to take care of my well-being at the table. “And if you’re still hungry, we’ll order something else.”
The wine is refused: he will take green tea. Not that he is asthenic, but he has had problems with alcohol and drugs in the past. His running autobiography, Running, is titled after his obsessive practice of running that helped him overcome other addictions. He speaks frankly about the time he attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Anonymous Drugs. He […]