World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan has been pounding the streets of Sheffield in his bid for Masters glory at the Alexandra Palace.
O’Sullivan, the winner of snooker’s World Championship for the last two years, takes on Robert Milkins tomorrow evening in the first round of the prestigious invitational event, which features the world’s top 16 players.
O’Sullivan, who last won the event in 2009, has received a favourable draw in the event and has been backed by several pundits, including John Parrott, to lift another crown.
To aid his preparation, O’Sullivan spent last week at the Star Snooker Academy, housed inside Sheffield United’s Redtooth Academy building.
Co-organised by Keith Warren and Garry Baldrey, the Academy is home to a stable of snooker stars, including China’s number one, Ding Junhui.
“Ronnie’s a regular visitor up here and it’s always a pleasure to have him,” Warren said.
“He’s looking in good form, and I think he sees it as a chance to get away from things when he comes up here.
“Back home, he’s always being hassled by people wanting a piece of him - sponsors commitments and such like.
“Up here, he can just focus 100% on his snooker, do his running and keep under the radar a little.”
O’Sullivan has supplemented his on-table preparations with daily runs in the city, to help him stay mentally and physically fit.
“Ronnie’s the kind of person that needs to keep focused,” Warren added.
“He goes out on the pavements in Sheffield at 6am, keeps his head down and keeps himself in shape.
“He easily puts on weight and gets out of condition if he doesn’t do that, and he has worked hard on that side of his game.”
O’Sullivan is expected to defend his title again this year at the Crucible, despite fears he may take another ‘sabbatical’ from the sport. His last break saw him take part in no competitive tournaments for almost a year, before coming back and defending his World Championship crown.
“Last year, he came here and locked himself away for around six weeks,” Warren added.
“To win the Worlds with no match practice, is unbelievable.
“Whether he wants to carry on and match Stephen Hendry’s record [of eight world titles] remains to be seen, but he’s probably playing better snooker now than he ever has done in his career.”
Ding, meanwhile, is also in action tomorrow, facing Shaun Murphy.
The world number three has already lifted three titles this season - the Shanghai Masters, Indian Open and International Championship - and he said: “I have had a good rest for the past three weeks. I have recharged my batteries, and I feel fresh to face the challenges ahead.”
Defending champion Mark Selby reached the quarter-finals yesterday, with a 6-5 win over Mark Davis.
Selby won the first four frames, while Davis went almost an hour without potting a ball.
But Selby, a three-time Masters champion, was given a scare when Davis levelled the scores at 55, before sealing a quarter-final spot by winning a 55-minute final frame.