Ronnie O’Sullivan moved to temper his World Snooker Championship expectations despite thrashing Barry Hawkins to claim a record-equalling sixth Masters title on Sunday night.
The 40-year-old had not played in a major tournament since last April but walked away with the Masters trophy after proving far too strong for Hawkins – who has now lost his last 10 meetings with O’Sullivan.
The Londoner drew level with Stephen Hendry with six Masters victories and will now be one of the favourites at the Crucible later in the year as he looks to take a sixth World Championship.
But he was quick to play down his chances in Sheffield, having only just made his return to the big time after taking time away following his quarter-final exit at the hands of Stuart Bingham in Sheffield.
“This is only a week,” he said of his Masters triumph.
“But to keep your focus for 17 days at the World Championship is a grind. We’ll see how it goes.”
Having labelled his own semi-final performance as “embarrassing”, O’Sullivan had renowned sports psychologist Steve Peters in attendance at London’s Alexandra Palace for the final and he explained how his guidance had helped guide him to the title.
“I am never normally surprised when I win tournaments but I am surprised I have won it after eight months out.
“It is about producing when it matters,” he said.
“Dr Steve Peters mentioned a couple of things and I just had to focus on each ball.
“If Barry played like he did in the semis, it would have been a great match.
“I’m delighted I’ve been able to play as well as I have done.”
Instead, Hawkins appeared overawed by the challenge of beating the returning ‘Rocket’ and was left regretting his own display – which saw him miss far too many chances in the scrappy frames having actually taken a 1-0 lead in the match.
“I’m disappointed with my performance,” he said.
“I didn’t give him a game at all. I didn’t feel like I could pot a ball in the end.
“If someone said to me I would have got to the final at the start of the week and play Ronnie I would have ripped their arm off but when you get to the final you want to perform.
“I’m sure I will look back at it and think I have done well but it is just one of those things.”
Despite taking the opening frame, Hawkins would not enjoy any further success, O’Sullivan levelling before moving ahead courtesy of a 136 break in the third.
Several of the remaining frames were hit and miss for both but O’Sullivan finished off the final before 8pm with breaks of 77, 72, 66 and 82.
Meanwhile, tickets are still on sale for the World Seniors Championship at Preston Guild Hall over the weekend of January 30-31.
Prices start at just £10, but fans must book fast because they are selling out.
For details call 01772 804444 or visit www.worldsnooker.com/tickets.
The full draw and format is:
January 30, from 1pm: Peter Ebdon v Nigel Bond, Mark Williams v Anthony Hamilton, Tony Drago v Robert Milkins, Joe Johnson v Darren Morgan
From 7pm: Ken Doherty v Mark Davis, John Parrott v Dominic Dale, Rory McLeod v Fergal O’Brien, Jimmy White v Gary Lees
January 31, from 1pm: Quarter-finals
From 7pm: Semi-finals and Final