Chigwell's Ronnie O’Sullivan admits he prefers playing the villain after being roared to an emphatic opening victory at the Masters at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday night.
O’Sullivan had former Masters champion Jimmy White and Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood for support as he stormed to a 6-1 first-round win against Robert Milkins.
But they were not the only ones in his corner as a packed out Ally Pally got their money’s worth in a dominant display by the five-time world champion.
And while O’Sullivan, also a four-time Masters champion, appreciates the backing, he believes his snooker is at its sharpest when he isn’t the crowd favourite.
“Sometimes it’s harder, I used to like it when they were against me,” he said. “It gives you a point to prove, I’m always better when my back’s against the wall and I feel I’ve got a reason to win and keep me motivated.
“It’s great having the crowd on your side but there’s also the added pressure that they’re here to support you and want you to win so bad.
“There’s a part of you that doesn’t want to let them down but it’s not every time you play a tournament in London, for me it’s a home tournament.
“You just have to get your head around it and hopefully I can give them something to shout about.”
O’Sullivan must now wait to discover whether his quarter-final opponent will be Ricky Walden or Barry Hawkins, who he beat to the world title last year.
The pair may pose a bigger threat than Milkins, who was making his Masters debut, but O’Sullivan insists even the best can let mistakes get the better of them in a high-pressure tournament.
“Rob’s had a good season and played well to get into the Masters,” he added. “But I just felt a bit sorry for him because obviously it’s a big event, it’s his first time playing in it and a big crowd so it was quite a tough match to get into.
“It’s the same whoever you play, if you get on top of them they’re only human and they feel like they have to make something happen if they’re behind, especially against any of the players in this tournament.
“If you give any of the players in this tournament a lead, they’re all top players for a reason. They’ve got a lot of experience so if you can get off to a good start and maintain that type of pressure you’re bound to get the chances and you’ve just got to take them.
“I’ve played better in this match than I have done for a few weeks, it was OK, I was good in patches. They’re all very tough matches, both [Walden and Hawkins] got to the semis of the worlds last year, and are two players really on form and whoever I play it’ll be a hard match.”
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