Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed on Eurosport's new snooker vodcast why John Higgins is the player who “kept me on my toes more than anybody” and how a conversation with his dad caused him to model his game on Steve Davis over Jimmy White.
O’Sullivan and Higgins have met 69 times since both turning professional in 1992. While The Rocket has won 37 of the encounters, he told Eurosport’s new snooker vodcast that his rivalry with Higgins helped elevate him to the top of the game.
Following the postponement of the World Championships due to the coronavirus pandemic, Eurosport has announced a two-week celebration of snooker in its place, including a new vodcast, which first airs on Saturday at 2pm on Eurosport 1. Snooker fans will also be able to enjoy all nine episodes in full in audio form on a new podcast, The Break, and Sunday's second episode will feature O'Sullivan discussing his icons, and his rivals.
"He’s kept me on my toes more than anybody," he said of Higgins. "We’ve had some great battles. I’ve taken some really bad beatings from John, they’ve hurt, but like I said when you’re younger the ones that hurt make you stronger.
Snooker vodcast: Ronnie O'Sullivan reveals his greatest rival
“If I was taking those beatings now, I’d run a mile. I’d be like ‘I’m not up for this’ but when you’re younger you’ve got no fear. You just want to improve, you’re single, you’ve got nothing else going on in your life and it’s all part of making you a better player.
“But as you get older, you don’t want to be taking those beatings, so you don’t learn so much when you’re older. John and I have had some fantastic matches."
'Class of '92 took our business seriously'
O’Sullivan, Higgins and Mark Williams formed the ‘Class of 92’ when they all turned pro together in the same year. While O’Sullivan and Williams used to play against each other as youngsters, it wasn’t until Higgins was 14 that word got round about his talents.
“The first I’d heard was that this Scottish kid had nearly had a 147 in the home internationals,” said O’Sullivan. “I didn’t even know what John Higgins looked like but after we heard that we had to watch him play and watching him play I thought this kid looks super, super good. Then from that moment on, I knew John Higgins was going to be a class, class player.
Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams.
Image credit: Eurosport
“So that was my first encounter with John Higgins but the rivalry from that day really has been on between the three of us. There was a lot of good players around, but we were hungry, we had the desire. We loved it, we wanted it. For a lot of snooker players, it was just a bit of a lifestyle, they used to go round there and have a bit of a laugh and a joke. But we took our business seriously.
“I think it helped that the three of us came through together because I think we all motivated each other to try and do better. If one of us was doing well it would always spur the other one on to do well. So, it was a healthy rivalry really.”
'How my dad helped me emulate Davis instead of White'
Reflecting on his own game, O’Sullivan says his father talked him into trying to learn from Steve Davis, even though he saw Jimmy White as a “snooker god”.
“There was a period when I was growing up where I wanted to play like Jimmy. I’d spin the cue around and I’d do all that sort of stuff.
“But then my dad sat me down and was quite forward thinking in that was and said ‘look, I know you want to be like Jimmy White, it’s great – he’s a fantastic player, but if you really want to start being the greatest player of all time and winning World Championships who’s the guy winning the tournaments?’
Ronnie O'Sullivan: The advice my dad gave me to help me become the GOAT
And I was like ‘Oh, Steve Davis’ and he said ‘OK, so he’s your role model, he’s who you should be copying’. So, a lot of where I am today is probably down to my dad because he kept me on the right track really.
Although O’Sullivan idolised Davis and White, it’s another player who he credits with taking snooker to a new level.
“It would be hard to say that anyone has taken the game on further than [Stephen] Hendry. Hendry I still think if he was in his prime, we were all in our prime, he would still be winning many, many titles.
“You look at Davis and Jimmy, yeah fantastic players, but probably not good enough to stay with the current breed of players.”
Watch the first vodcast episode on Eurosport 1 and Eurosport Player at 2pm on Saturday - with the first of three Ronnie interviews airing on Sunday.