Ronnie O’Sullivan has questioned whether Ding Junhui has the hunger and desire to compete with the players at the very top of snooker, but has also asked the same questions of himself.
The two former champions meet in the first round of the Masters on Wednesday at the Marshall Arena as both look to lift their first trophy of the season.
Both men have had solid but unspectacular seasons thus far, with the Rocket reaching two finals and Ding making four quarter-finals, but not progressing beyond that stage of any event.
Meanwhile, the season so far has been dominated by Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby, who have picked up the majority of the titles on offer.
O’Sullivan sees those three players as being a cut above the rest at the moment and, while he is a huge fan of Ding’s game, does not think the Chinese star has the hunger to compete with that dominant trio.
‘Ding’s a fantastic player as far as his cue ball, his break-building ability and he’s playing a lot more this year. That’s good for him,’ O’Sullivan told Metro.co.uk.
‘Snooker at the moment is like a 9-5 job, you’ve got to turn up every day and play. Some days are not great, some are good and at some point you’ll hit a point where you’re playing very well and get victories. I’m sure that’s Ding’s approach, playing a lot more.
‘Ding is a bit like me, I’m not sure he’s got the hunger or desire for it now. Ability is one thing, but hunger and desire…there’s going to be times when you’re playing Judd or Selby or Robertson and you’ve got to want it as much as them and they want it really bad. That’s what wins them tight, big matches.
‘It’s not a criticism of Ding there’s just different levels of hunger. He’s hungry to win, yeah, you ask him if he wants to win tournaments his answer is “yeah” but it’s how badly?
‘Sometimes it’s got to feel like a matter of life and death. That sounds crazy, but if you just think “well, if I lose it’s not the end of the world” that’s the difference between life and death and thinking it don’t really matter.
‘That’s dangerous thinking. It’s how much you want it at the end of the day and you’ve got to be true to yourself.
‘It’s a commitment and I think Selby, Robertson, Trump, have made that commitment to embrace the ups and the downs that come with it.’
O’Sullivan puts himself in the same bracket as the 33-year-old on this front, and despite believing he lacks something that his rivals have, Ding has the quality and enough time in the game ahead of him to accomplish great things.
‘Maybe me and Ding think the idea sounds good but the actual reality of it is tough,’ said Ronnie. ‘When you’re younger, fit and healthy it’s the right time to take that approach so he’s in a good place to do it.
‘I’m a huge fan of Ding. He’s one of them players that could play until he’s 50. He plays the game a bit like Steve Davis, with his positioning he doesn’t really have to pot hard balls.
‘Hopefully he’s around for a long time because he’s been great for snooker and snooker in China.;
O’Sullivan has commented on Ding’s desire to succeed before, saying last year on Instagram: ‘Ding’s a bit of a mystery. I think he’s got great cue control. I think he might have too much money.’
The Rocket has also suggested he can be bullied on the table, although he made these comments at the 2019 UK Championship, which Ding went on to win, having beaten O’Sullivan on his way to the title.
‘If there’s one criticism it’s whether he has the heart and the grit like other players do. He’s had a good career – sometimes he can’t beat the players who put it on him and are tougher than him,’ said Ronnie at the Barbican in 2019.
‘I think it’s a bit like a footballer playing in the Spanish league, nice weather and all that sort of stuff.
‘They come to the Premier League and it gets to October, November, December, January, February and they just don’t really relish the cold weather and going up to play some of these teams they have to play
‘I think Ding is that type of person, he doesn’t really relish the new model of snooker.’
Ding and O’Sullivan have met on a regular basis recently, with the Rocket beating Enter the Dragon on his way to a sixth world title in the summer, before downing him at the Northern Ireland and Scottish Open this season.
The world number nine’s last victory over the Englishman was that notable success at the UK Championship, although he has never beaten the 45-year-old at the Masters in four attempts.
They meet at 1pm on Wednesday for a place in the quarter-finals.
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