Ronnie O’Sullivan believes he has become “an easy target” for criticism and has issued his response to Hossein Vafaei’s latest remarks.
O’Sullivan and Vafaei have become embroiled in a war of words ahead of their eagerly-anticipated Second Round show-down at the World Snooker Championship on Friday.
The feud between the pair dates back 12 months, when Vafaei suggested O’Sullivan should “retire” and claimed he was “not good for the game”, before ‘The Rocket’ 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 on Day One at The Crucible and warned his rivals to not “rattle my cage”.
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.”
Vafaei defeated Ding Junhui 10-6 to record a memorable first win at The Crucible and confirm a mouth-watering clash with the defending champion.
The Iranian star then launched a fresh attack on O’Sullivan, admitting he would like to “shut his mouth” and adding “He’s such a nice person when he’s asleep.”
O’Sullivan issued his response to Vafaei’s comments in an interview with Eurosport on Thursday, playing down the rivalry between the pair.
“I don’t know what to say, really, other than I wish every snooker player well,” said O’Sullivan.
“I know that everyone on the circuit works really hard, sometimes on the circuit for 10-20 years, they don’t get many rewards, and when they do, it’s nice.
“We’re all on this circuit together and you can’t begrudge any good results so I hold no hard feelings for anyone because obviously it’s a tough gig and we are all here just trying to do our best.
“So I don’t take it personally. I think I’m kind of used to that, I had it as a junior growing up, I had it as an amateur, I had it as an early-season pro, and you still continue to get it.
“It has kind of followed me around my whole career really, but it is what it is, you know? You just have to play your game and just do your job.
“I think maybe I am a bit of an easy target because if I do an interview about my own game or whatever, obviously they will pick something out and there will be a headline.
“If I’m not playing, then generally they will ask other players what they think about what I’ve said, and the interview is about them talking about me.
“So I can’t win, really – do you know what I mean? The press are always going to find a question to ask someone. Some people are going to have stronger opinions than others so they are going to voice those opinions.
“All over my career I have had little things. Even when friends say it, they don’t know there is a commentator who is one of my best friends. He didn’t doubt me, but he thought one player was about to take over, and it was Ding Junhui.
“You know what? When I heard that it just fired me up, and he is one of my best friends. So it is not whoever has said it; sometimes I need someone to doubt me or question whether I can still do it.
“I like having something to prove, but I don’t make it a personal thing, I just use it to fire myself up.”
During his post-match interview on Monday, Vafaei had also revealed that O’Sullivan’s actions had caused him to become “disrespectful” towards his own family.
Asked if Vafaei was being too personal in his remarks, O’Sullivan offered: “I could be a nicer person? I don’t know. I try to help all of the players on the circuit.
“If you ask a lot of the pros, pros that are winning world titles that are my rivals, I give them advice. I text them and say ‘you are too good to not be winning as many tournaments as you should, I think you should be trying this or trying that’.
“It’s well documented that I open myself up to that, and I like to do that because it is good to share. I did the same with Hossein earlier in his career, so it is what it is.
“Some of the comments kind of didn’t make sense. I knew something was going on two years ago when the behaviour [from Vafaei] changed towards me.
“I don’t have any revenge in me, I just like to play the game and to compete and to enjoy the match. I love my snooker and that is the most important thing for me.
“I don’t get involved in those battles because it is not worth it. We are here to play a game and play snooker. You have just got to try and stay in your own lane and stay focused on what you have got to do.”
O’Sullivan’s last meeting with Vafaei came in last year’s German Masters qualifiers, with the ‘Prince of Persia’ storming to a 5-0 whitewash.
The world number one is making a record 31st consecutive Crucible appearance, but admits he would like to see Vafaei go on and win the title if he was to come through their encounter.
“If I don’t go on and win the tournament then I would love to see him go on and win the tournament,” added O’Sullivan.
“It would probably be the best thing for snooker and would do great for the game. It is his chance to make himself a superstar.
“I don’t want him to feel like there is pressure on him. I don’t want to put that on myself or anyone. He works hard and if he beats me then he deserves some credit.
“A lot of the players have said certain things about me or done certain things and I’ve just thought ‘that wasn’t very nice’ and it just inspires me to want to stay in the game longer. The more they want me to go, the more I want to hang around.”
“𝙃𝙚 𝙖𝙡𝙬𝙖𝙮𝙨 𝙛𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙨 𝙚𝙭𝙘𝙪𝙨𝙚𝙨 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙝𝙞𝙢𝙨𝙚𝙡𝙛.”
— Live Snooker (@Livesnooker) April 17, 2023
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