This will be O'Sullivan first World Championship without his father behind bars. I have no doubt his father's incarceration has had a negative effect on his career. O'Sullivan has suffered from depression, bipolar to be exact, and his fluctuating emotions have often seen him put in some shocking performances in spite of his undoubted brilliance. The Graeme Dott semi-final in 2006, and his abysmal 9-5 UK Championship loss to Joe Perry jump to mind.
Should O'Sullivan have won the World Championship before 2001? Probably. I consider him a superior player to John Higgins, Ken Doherty & Mark Williams (no disrespect those mentioned, one of whom is a very good player, the other two being greats of the game), who all managed to claim the Joe Davis trophy before O'Sullivan. I think he had a problem delivering on his immense talent, a mental block which may be attributed to his father.
Of course, it was tough on the guy. He hardly knows his own father, who should be a central figure in any person's life. Also, the manner in which he lost touch with his father must have been quite disturbing. Whatever people think of O'Sullivan, there's no doubting this was a hard blow and could only have been a hindrance. The guy hasn't had it easy, and it's impossible for us to understand his condition, unless we've suffered from bipolar disorder ourselves (which I haven't, thankfully). My father is still a pivotal figure in my life, and if I didn't have him, well, things just wouldn't be the same. I know there's a lot of people who dislike O'Sullivan, and I'm not forcing anyone to like him, but stop to think for a while.
Will his father's release have a positive effect on him, particularly at this year's World Championship? O'Sullivan's form has been patchy of late, so maybe this is the kind of motivation he needs? When he has the head down, and is determined to do something, O'Sullivan can be untouchable.
Or, will it have the opposite effect? Will it be too great a burden on his shoulders? Having had his father locked up for eighteen years, perhaps the emotions of the whole situation may get the better of him. And often, we see O'Sullivan throwing in an awful display when under too much pressure.
What do I think? I think it's downright wrong to judge what's going to happen in a situation like this. Only Ronnie O'Sullivan knows what's going on in his own head. I don't think anybody can say whether he's going to be unstoppable or abysmal come mid-April. I'm going to reserve judgement for after the Crucible. If he wins, we can safely say he's been inspired. If not, we can safely say the pressure was too much.
All I know is, it'll be intriguing to watch. But is it going to be a help or hindrance? Too early for ANYONE to say.
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