O'Sullivan withdraws from tour
World champion Ronnie O'Sullivan has called a time-out on his snooker career in a dramatic move that casts doubt on whether he will ever play again.
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The 36-year-old wrote to World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn to confirm what he told the veteran sports promoter in a telephone call last week: that his season is over before it has properly begun.
A short statement from the organisation announced: "World Snooker has been informed that Ronnie O'Sullivan does not intend to compete on the World Snooker tour for the remainder of the 2012/13 season."
The precise reasons were not disclosed, although it is known O'Sullivan has battled depression and recently suffered badly with glandular fever. His manager, Django Fung, stressed there were a raft of causes for O'Sullivan deciding to step away from the sport.
O'Sullivan has played just one match in competition since landing his fourth world title at the Crucible on May 7, losing to the then world number 76 Simon Bedford at a minor tournament staged in Gloucester at the start of September.
That may prove to be the last tour match the Chigwell maverick ever plays, but Hearn hopes not.
"It's difficult to say. Ricky Hatton has come back after three years in the wilderness so you can never tell," said Hearn.
"I've known Ronnie since he was 12 and I'd like to see him back to the bubbly character he used to be.
"He needs total time away from the game. It's a good decision he's made.
"He's got a lot of issues to deal with and he's not particularly well. He wants to take a complete break and see how he feels.
"I'm very relaxed about it. He's got a lot on his mind, and of course he's retired more times than Sinatra.
"It's a sensible, mature call to say, 'I can't just play at it'. It just piles up on you, and it probably feels it's a release.
"The game is in a strong place at the minute. We've had a strong start to the season and there's a new number one in Judd Trump."
Should O'Sullivan commit to next season, he would almost certainly find himself outside the world's top 32, needing to win at least two qualifying matches in empty snooker halls just to reach the venue stage of tournaments.
Since triumphing against Ali Carter in Sheffield six months ago, O'Sullivan has fallen from ninth in the rankings to 20th, due to inactivity, and with the season still in its infancy - the UK Championship takes place in York next month - he will plummet further.
This announcement did not come entirely out of the blue. Prior to last week's International Championship in Chengdu, which he made a late decision to miss, citing illness, O'Sullivan said he was unsure whether he had made the right decision to enrol for another season.
He had committed to next month's UK Championship in York and January's Masters at Alexandra Palace, and was then expected to defend his world title at the end of the season.
But that all changes now, and for the time being at least the sport will have to cope without its biggest name, barely six months after losing another major star when seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry retired.
At least in 23-year-old Trump it has a crowd-pleasing number one.
Fung, who also manages Trump, said O'Sullivan would need time to consider his priorities.
Fung said on BBC Radio Five Live: "At the moment he wants to be away from snooker, see how he feels, see how he can manage his personal life, see if he can try to do other things, see if he can have a better life without snooker."
Asked if that could mean he is looking for a permanent break from snooker, Fung said: "Yeah."
He added: "Let's hope not, you never know with Ronnie.
"In six months' time, next season, he might decide he's 100% again, and we might see the best of Ronnie O'Sullivan again."
O'Sullivan split several years ago from the mother of his two youngest children, and the demands of the expanding snooker tour meant opportunities to see them were becoming limited.
Explaining the reasoning behind the career break, Fung said: "It's due to Ronnie's own personal problems, his health, travelling, children, family and so on. We all have our own problems but some can handle it better than others."