Ronnie O'Sullivan key to snooker, says Stephen Hendry

By Ben DirsBBC Sport at the Crucible

Stephen Hendry has warned snooker chief Barry Hearn that the sport cannot afford to lose Ronnie O'Sullivan.

O'Sullivan, 36, beat Ali Carter 18-11 to win his fourth world title and then said he would consider his future.

"As much as what Barry says is true, that no player is bigger than the game, all over the world Ronnie is seen as the hot ticket," Hendry told BBC Sport.

""He's the best player in the world and any tournament without the best player in the world is devalued."

The Englishman said he would take a break from the sport and then decide whether to continue.

O'Sullivan has threatened to quit on numerous previous occasions, but the recent expansion of the snooker tour to 27 events, covering 50 weeks of the year, could seal the 36-year-old's decision.

"I'm quite happy to move on, if I have to, because there's a lot out there for me to do," said O'Sullivan after clinching his impressive victory over Carter on Monday.

"I know there's still a bit more in the tank for me in snooker but certain people need to start doing the right thing.

"It's up to the governing body to treat the players right and say that they don't expect the players to travel to 28 tournaments a year.

"I'm prepared to work as hard as anyone but I just want to be treated fairly and I think the top players need to be treated fairly.

"If players don't play in the minor events, you know they're going to drop out of the top 16 and you know they're going to have to qualify for tournaments. I think there's a better way of doing it.

"I don't like feeling that you're being blackmailed or forced to play in certain events. I'm not going to hang around for another two years to wait until things become what I believe to be fair."

But Hearn responded by saying O'Sullivan did not have to play.

"I haven't got a problem when he doesn't play. I love it when he does. If a player chooses not to play, don't play. I can't see where Ronnie is coming from."

Hendry, who announced his retirement following his quarter-final defeat by Stephen Maguire, does not believe his old rival will necessarily follow through with his threat, but he does sympathise with his reasoning.

"I've spoken to Ronnie a couple of times this season and he intimated he was thinking about it," added seven-time world champion Hendry.

"I'm not sure Ronnie doesn't think he'll play snooker again but I don't think he's enjoying the wall-to-wall snooker we're playing at the moment.

"Ronnie's at the stage of his career where he wants a buzz out of the game. If every tournament was like the World Championship, I'm sure he would play on, but a lot of the smaller tournaments are not as enjoyable.

"It doesn't sound like Barry's going to be begging Ronnie to stay. But I wouldn't like to be in his position, trying to sell a tournament without the marquee players.

"It's like when Tiger Woods wasn't playing - the viewing figures for golf went down and the sponsors didn't show the same interest. I think we'll find the same with O'Sullivan."

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