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“Don’t rattle my cage” – O’Sullivan fires warning to Vafaei ahead of potential Crucible clash

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Reigning champion Ronnie O’Sullivan makes winning start at The Crucible

O’Sullivan looks on (Photo by Richard Sellers/PA/Alamy Stock)

Ronnie O’Sullivan believes Hossein Vafaei has “learned to be quiet” after his outspoken comments prior to last year’s World Snooker Championship.

Vafaei suggested O’Sullivan should “retire” and claimed he was “not good for the game”, before O’Sullivan went on to lift a record-equalling seventh world title.

O’Sullivan battled his way past Chinese debutant Pang Junxu to kick-start his title defence at The Crucible on Saturday and warned his rivals to not “rattle my cage”, hinting at a possible Second Round meeting with Vafaei.

During his post-match interview in the Eurosport studio, O’Sullivan quipped: “Hossein Vafaei. Has he been saying much this year? I think he’s learned to be quiet.

“Don’t rattle my cage.

“I’m just having fun. I love it when they’re calling me out.

“I love it when they give me stick, I just love it.

“It turns me on and I get off on it. I need something to fire me up sometimes.

“When someone says something, I get better and I can have a reason to perform I suppose.

“I think they’ll probably realise now it’s not a good tactic to play, but we’ll see. We’ll have some fun.”

Vafaei must overcome 2016 world finalist Ding Junhui if he is to set up a grudge clash with ‘The Rocket’ in the Last 16 next week.

O’Sullivan fended off a late rally from 23-year-old Pang to close out a 10-7 victory in his opener despite not making a century break for the first time in 30 matches at The Crucible.

The defending champion stormed into a 5-0 lead with breaks of 61, 53 and 71, punishing a clutch of missed chances from the nervy youngster.

Pang’s first frame at the home of snooker came courtesy of a memorable break of 133, but a missed black off the spot in the following frame gifted O’Sullivan a 6-1 lead.

However, the qualifier recovered well to make an 83 break before dominating frame nine to reduce the deficit to 6-3 at the end of the first session.

O’Sullivan began the evening with a break of 83 before adding two of the next three frames to move to the verge of victory at 9-4.

Pang, however, hit back with consecutive breaks of 78, 70 73 to apply the pressure, but O’Sullivan eventually got over the line thanks to an 81 break.

The Rocket revealed his relief to seal victory after feeling under the weather throughout the match, adding: “I’m just relieved it’s over, to be honest with you.

“I’ve got a bug, I’ve been absolutely hanging all day. Legs, limbs, everything’s gone. I was just hanging in there.

“In the end I was so desperate just to get over the line in every frame and it was a horrible feeling.

“I’ve just got to see if I can get through and hopefully have a few day’s rest, or maybe just hang around The Crucible and give everyone my bug!

“I was so tired and I feel so relaxed, it’s mad. I can’t wait to get back to my bed.”

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