Ronnie O'Sullivan slammed Ding Junhui for lacking the hunger, desperation or desire to become a snooker world champion, writes Will Jennings.
37-time ranking event winner O’Sullivan soared to his sixth World Championship title in the summer after toppling Ding, the current world No.10, in a pulsating last 16 clash.
Ding, a 14-time ranking event winner, has beaten the Rocket on five occasions in their 23 meetings but has struggled to fulfil the promise that saw him storm to the first of three UK Championship titles as an 18-year-old in 2005.
World No.2 O’Sullivan let rip at the Chinese player and believes allowing himself to get too comfortable has seen him fall behind world No.1 Judd Trump.
“A desperate player or a hungry player is a dangerous player, and I just don’t think Ding is ever hungry or desperate enough to make him that fierce competitor that you need to be,” O’Sullivan, 44, said.
“[Stephen] Hendry had it, [Steve] Davis had it, [John] Higgins had it, [Mark] Williams had it, Judd’s got it – to be that regular champion you need to have that killer instinct.
“You can’t really ever say Ding has hit that point where you’d say he was the best player in the world or was favourite to win the Worlds, or even the dangerman.
“He had the odd season where he played really well but never really dominated. He just got too comfortable – he likes his family and maybe he hasn’t got the desire to be the greatest player or win the biggest tournaments.
“Maybe he’s a bit of a luxury type of player. If things are going well, great, but if things are not going well, he doesn’t get too hard on himself and doesn’t want to work through that as hard as some other players.”
O’Sullivan and Ding, 33, have met 23 times since 2005 with the Rocket winning on 15 of those occasions – most recently in the quarter-finals of the Northern Ireland Open in Milton Keynes.
He edged past him under the Crucible lights in August but went down to a 6-4 defeat in the quarter-finals of last year’s UK Championship, as Ding navigated his way to a 14th ranking event title in York.
The UK Championship – one of snooker’s three Triple Crown events alongside the World Championship and the Masters – is an event the Asian player thrives in, claiming the title in 2005, 2009 and in 2019 to mark himself out as the modern king of the Barbican.
Ding's UK Championship title defence ended on Saturday as he slumped to a shock 6-5 defeat against world No.65 David Grace - but O’Sullivan reckons a temptation to keep potting balls will elongate his career.
He added: “When you’re that good at it, it’s very hard to just put that cue down.
“One day if you got to the point where he wasn’t able to play great or maybe get the odd result, well then maybe he may think about jacking it in.
“But when you’re that good, it’s very difficult to say, even if you don’t need it, to not play it. Why wouldn’t you?
“I kind of get it and I’d rather go his way and approach it that way than the other way. He has a lot of business interests in China and I just think he sees snooker as something he enjoys to do.”