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Beware the vegan

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Ben Dirs | 15:23 UK time, Sunday, 22 April 2012

"Whoever's been giving me these draws lately," says Peter Ebdon, "I'm definitely taking them off my Christmas card list." Whoever it is will likely be two cards light next Christmas, because for Ronnie O'Sullivan, a first-round encounter with Ebdon at the Crucible is pretty much the draw from hell.

Back in 2005, O'Sullivan was left clawing at his face as Ebdon, stalking the table like a general poring over his battle maps, took five minutes to compile a break of 12. O'Sullivan, who had been 8-2 up, ended up losing that quarter-final 13-11 before announcing, not for the last time, his intention to take a sabbatical from snooker. You might say he had been well and truly Ebdonated.

In the lead-up to their fourth Crucible encounter (Ebdon leads 2-1), O'Sullivan appeared to still be under Ebdon's spell. "I can run a mile in five minutes, and my fastest 147 break was only 20 seconds longer," said the three-time world champion last week. "I am an instinctive player, rather than a methodical one. I see the shot quickly, and it can be hard seeing your opponent not doing it."

O'Sullivan's comments seemed a little bit naive: letting an opponent know slow play gets under your skin is rather like a boxer telling his opponent he is somewhat susceptible to uppercuts. And Ebdon, a man so frighteningly determined he dared to release a follow-up single to 1996's 'I Am A Clown' - no, really - is not someone you play mind games with. Especially now he's gone vegan.

"I've been vegan for almost five months and it's made a huge difference," Ebdon, playing in his 21st consecutive World Championship - one more than O'Sullivan - tells BBC Sport. "My concentration and focus is good and the diet is a big part of that. I've also been working hard on my fitness and everything's coming together on the table. I'm really looking forward to it."

Ebdon v O'Sullivan in 2005 was a particularly fiesty affair. Photo: Getty

Ebdon, world champion in 2002, insists the supposed beef between himself and O'Sullivan is media-made. "Ronnie likes playing the press card but I don't get involved with all that," says Ebdon. "The press target the same players every year for sensationalism and you just have to take it on the chin.

"I've known Ronnie since he was nine, when he came to the club in King's Cross where I started practising as a 14-year-old. I don't know him as well as I could do and we're not the greatest of friends. But we're certainly not enemies. I always look forward to playing Ronnie, he's an absolute genius."

Earlier this month, Ebdon won the China Open, his first triumph in a ranking event for three years, and his progress through the qualifying rounds in Sheffield - he booked his place at the Crucible with a 10-0 whitewash of Alfie Burden - suggested Ebdon is chewier than ever. So chewy, he might prove difficult for O'Sullivan to digest.

"I was absolutely delighted to win in China, it was massive for me," says Ebdon, who beat Matthew Stevens, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui before seeing off Stephen Maguire in the final. "And my friends and family knew how much qualifying [for the Worlds] meant to me.

"It's not been difficult for me to maintain my motivation and focus because I haven't been winning, so I've been trying harder and harder all the time. A lot of people don't expect me to be winning tournaments but I see no reason why I can't continue to win tournaments for a long, long time."

Ebdon, who now lives in Hungary with his second wife Nora ("an absolutely lovely woman, I'm very, very happy") is clearly in a good place. The question is - as ever - what kind of place is O'Sullivan in? And will he be able to hold it together when Ebdon takes him to places he doesn't like to be in?

Before Mike Tyson's rematch with Evander Holyfield, Tyson's old trainer Teddy Atlas famously predicted his former charge would become frustrated and lose the plot. No-one is suggesting O'Sullivan will bite Ebdon's ear off, but more pedestrian play from Ebdon might at least cause O'Sullivan's mind to wander.

"It's a gruelling 17 days, it really is a marathon, and it takes something special to become a world champion," says Ebdon. "I'm pleased I managed to win one World Championship and I'd dearly love to do it again.

"I've got a very, very tough opening opponent in Ronnie O'Sullivan, one of the greatest players of all time. But I will be trying for my life. I promise you." Don't worry, Peter, we believe it. And Ronnie better believe it, too.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    When i dabble in snooker myself, i take longer than most to weigh up the options and think things through, however what peter Ebdon did was simply cheating. Captains get fined for slow over rates in cricket and in this occasion, Peter Ebdon took the laws of allowing unlimited time to the extreme in a calculating fashion to cheat his way to winning the match. Having previously watched him live, I admire Ebdon's fighting spirit, however in a game of renowned gentlemanly conduct such as snooker, this was simply not on.

  • Comment number 2.

    I was going to announce myself as first but i've had my fingers burnt before doing that!!

    I think the key for O'Sullivan will be just getting on and playing his own game and not letting what Ebdon is doing worry him too much. There isn't really anyone who can play the game as naturally and quickly as O'Sullivan and rather than dwelling on it and letting it get to him he should just accept it and play the way we all know he can and he should win through. Wont be easy though against a tough competitor like Ebdon.

  • Comment number 3.

    @ 2 I have to agree Ebdon knew exactly what he was doing and knew there wasn't anything that could be done about it as nothing in the rules say you can't take longer over a shot than someone else would.

    5 minutes for a 12 break is ridiculous though, I'm no hurricane or rocket around the table but i'd be ashamed of that!

  • Comment number 4.

    Ebdon does not make good viewing. And the public doesn't expect everyone to be like O'Sullivan or Trump and definitely recognises good, gritty players. But he takes the metronomic game to new levels of slowness and boredom. I hope Ronnie wins, like I do every time he plays, but his attitude does hurt the snooker faithful, I'm sure of it.

  • Comment number 5.

    I've always found it unfair when people claim that Ebdon is 'boring'. After the China Open the reports focused on the length of the match and the fact that the first session only lasted six frames instead of eight, but they neglected to mention that Ebdon compiled four century breaks in the ten frames he won that day. I don't remember much about the 2005 Ebdon/O'Sullivan match, but I felt that O'Sullivan, as the defending world champion, should have been better equipped to deal with Ebdon's pace. It's a shame that this match has to take place in the first round, because I love watching Ronnie play and I'd like to see Ebdon end his run of first round losses at the Crucible (he hasn't won a match there since 2008), but sadly we can't have both and objectively speaking it would be better for the tournament if O'Sullivan prevailed - especially after seeing Liang Wenbo, Martin Gould and Mark Allen all lose their first round matches to slightly slower and perhaps less aggressive opponents.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hey, I'm no Peter Ebdon fan (are there any?), but to say that he should be ashamed for his 5 minutes in reaching a break of 12, is very mean. I don't think even Ben Dirs was remotely suggesting he should be castigated for his slowness of play. Indeed. his ability to get under the skin of the opponent, is what makes great champions of sport. Peter Ebdon turned an almost-impossible situation around and defeated his opponent; should he really be ashamed of that? I think not!

  • Comment number 7.

    So Ebdon confirms his status as one of the most boring men in snooker by becoming vegan. I bet he's a thrill at dinner parties.

  • Comment number 8.

    yottskry - I think that's a little bit unfair. I actually think Ebdon's far more intriguing than a lot of sportsmen out there, at least he's got plenty of interests beyond the game. As for his style of play, there's no doubt that if everyone played like him, snooker wouldn't be long for this world. But they don't, and for that reason his game against O'Sullivan and the contrasting styles should make for compelling viewing.

  • Comment number 9.

    How long shall the match last, make your bets now. I actually like Peter Ebdon because he is his own man and there has never been a certain amount of time you should play on one shot, so he has not actually done anything wrong. I also like Ronnie O'Sullivan and ultimately hope he wins, but on current form this is a 50/50. It is ashame this is a first round match. It would make a fascinating final.

  • Comment number 10.

    I've been playing and watching snooker for more than 30 years, and there has always been the quick (Alex Higgins, Ronnie) and the slow (Cliff Thorburn, Peter Ebdon). But it is the fast players who people want to watch - sport is as much an entertainment as it is a competitive activity. As much as I love watching Ronnie play, I'll not be watching him play Ebdon (or Dott, or Selby, or any other slow, dull players) - I'll just look at the live scoring websites and pray Ronnie wins...

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    Ebdon is hardly a criminal, I don't think he was actually playing games to get at Ronnie in the Championship. He was just taking a long time over each shot, like he has said he tends to take longer in crucial situations. Ebdon was not attempting to get at the crowd either, you could say the longer the match the more value the crowd get for their money depending on your point of view. Basically, I don't see Edbon as the type of guy to play games as you see often in the game of darts for example where the likes of Ted Hankey slow down on purpose to put off their opponent. Anyway good luck Ronnie, otherwise i'll be supporting Ebdon this year.

  • Comment number 13.

    @6 Yeah it probably was a bit harsh saying I'd be ashamed of it but I do feel he intentionally played slow knowing full well it would get under Ronnie's skin, however as I said in my original post (2) then he should accept that there poeple can't play the game like he can and not let that fact get to him.

    I think this year he should be better equipped to deal with it, from what I've seen of him at recent tournaments he seems to be happy and just enjoying playing snooker.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think you have to make a distinction between slow play, which is a player's natural rhythm, and deliberately taking excessive amount of time over your shots to disturb your opponent. The latter is, at best, unsporting, and I believe there should be some rule against it, as O' Sullivan has pointed out, there is in golf. I do believe in the 2005 match that Ebdon crossed the line and was not engaging in his natural game, but instead was slowing the game down to get to his opponent. O' Sullivan should have dealt with it better, but I do believe that something should be done by the referee under these circumstances.

  • Comment number 16.

    If O'Sullivan can't cope with slow play he should thank his lucky stars that he didn't play in the 80's against the like of Griffiths, Thorburn and Charlton, plus numerus others who could make Ebdon look like a speed freak.

    Snooker is a a tactical game if all you want to do is watch people pot balls quickly then the pool tables over there...

    I like Ebdon and I hope that he stuffs O'Sullivan so badly that he finally lives up to his continual (and incredibly boring) threat to quit.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    I love the drama of the World Champs and how it's such a high standard immediately. There's no easy matches to warm you up, just ask Mark Allen, Stuart Bingham or John Higgins.
    There's so much good sport on at the moment it's amazing but the snooker still keeps my attention over a lot of the rest of it...

    http://samhopwood.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/is-it-possible-to-overdose-on-sport.html

  • Comment number 19.

    as a regular spactator at the crucible, i was at this particular match (1st session only) and ronnie was winning 6-2 the first session, ebdons play was his normally slow, boring,dull unexciting but as i say that is his normal game.

    but then in the last session ebdon reverted to the worse case of blatant CHEATING i think i have ever seen ANY sportsman perform.
    one shot....was a very simple straight forward pot if i remember correctly about 8-10ins just to drop it in for the black and he spent over 2 mins studying.
    and 5 mins to pot 4 balls come on!!!
    i dont know if the rules have changed but the referee used to have the power to ask the slow player to speed up,i remember a player once being warned by the ref for slow play i think it was dean reynolds.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    I probably won't bother watching this match to be honest. I find Ebdon the most boring player to watch the game has ever had. I love playing the game and watching it but Ebdon manages to make a simple shot look like it's the toughest shot of his career.
    I hope Ronnie can keep his mind throughout the match and win it so we can see him really start to play in the next round.

  • Comment number 22.

    @10 I tend to agree but I think singling out Selby and Dott is a touch harsh. Dott especially deliberately sped up a couple of years ago to prove he could do it, and in so doing seemed to become much more attacking (although the occasionally fawning BBC coverage towards 'Dotty' doesn't help people's opinion of him). The one bloke I can't stand to watch is Rory Mcleod, seems a nice chap but he's teeth-grindingly slow.

    I do sometimes wonder if a lot of these 'slower' players end up holding back their natural game to the detriment of their overall play; a freer style often helps me relax in my matches (although I'm nowhere near their level). I'd give Stephen Lee as an obvious example; awesome cue action but he seemed to be perennially bogged down with trying to force concentration and weigh up every permutation on every shot (up to this year anyway). Generally I'd say the first shot you see is often the best option, so play it.

    It'd be interesting to see a few of the slower players in practice to see what their natural rhythm is like mind.

  • Comment number 23.

    Oh and I had no idea Ebdon dared to follow up the execrable 'I am a clown'! Who on earth thought 'Peter Ebdon is a wonderful singer, we need more of his work in the public sphere'?

  • Comment number 24.

    for everyone whos saying that the slow players are hard to watch, they're the best to watch. all the pros can knock in a century in 10mins but its having the safety play which makes the best the best. just look at steve davis arguably the greatest ever second only to hendry.both of them, espescially davis, can play make big breaks quickly but also play slowly and play nice defensive shots.
    unfortuneantely to appreciate the slow defensive play in snooker quite often u have to play snooker and be a slow player yourself, like i am.
    i really admire peter though because he is arguably the least naturally talented player yet he still wins ranking tournaments. i know most would want 2 fast players in the final for example ronnie vs murphy but i would love to 2 sow players for example higgins vs ebdon that would make for a fantastic final

  • Comment number 25.

    If I were to advise Ronnie I'd suggest that he keep letting it slip how much Ebdon's play needled him. Sort of a double bluff. Then if it's obvious the Ebdon is purposely slowing up, Ronnie would know that Ebdon is concentrating on annoying him rather than thinking about the game.

  • Comment number 26.

    how on earth people can call his slow play boring dull and i believe some have also used the word cheating. im sorry but that is a very strong word to choose in sport. no pro would deliberately go out of their to cheat. of course all sportsmen get frustrated and ca loe their temper but no sportsmen would sit down before the match and think that they will cheat someway.
    like others have stated the top top players, which ronnie is one of, should if trut be known have been able to cope with the slow play. the fact remains in all sports, or most and snooker is included, that there will always be different styles of play so you need to adapt to that so youn combat it come out on top

  • Comment number 27.

    Do people genuinely think John Higgins is a slow player? I never had him down as a slow player, yes he certainly plays slower than the like of O'Sullivan but then most do, also I don't feel the same could be said of Hendry, they're certainly more methodical in their approach but by no means are they slow.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    This will be a great mathc up. That's why the World Championships are so special, because great parings happen straight away.

    After reading an article about Hendry and O'Sullivan, I can't help but think that Ronnie might be in the mood for a 147. http://playwithflair.com/2012/04/21/ronnie-osullivan-or-stephen-hendry/

  • Comment number 30.

    Whilst I personally don't care for Ebdon - remember the ridiculous roaring rages before storming out of the arena, not to mention the pony tail...? - pantomimes do need a villain.

    It's hard to watch though. Like watching Ted Hankey saunter to the board to tediously pluck his darts from the board before taking a tauntingly lazy stroll past the oche, keeping just inside his opponent's field of vision.

    Not enough to tempt the referee but just the wrong side of the 'spirit of the game' test to needle the opponent.

    It's not cricket.

  • Comment number 31.

    For all those calling Ebdon a cheat I think its terribly harsh. He was playing mind games no doubt, but his chosen way of doing that was to slow play down, and there is nothing against that in the rules of snooker.

    When Ronnie first started playing left handed at the table some complained about it - but there is nothing in the rules to say he cant, so he carried on playing left handed to annoy his opponents.

    The difference between the two situations is that Ronnie is more exciting so nobody cares if he plays left handed, but because slowing play down is not necessarily exciting then he gets a tirade of abuse for it - even though it was a hugely successful ploy against the defending world champion.

    I am not a great fan of Ebdon as I would rather watch exciting snooker and to #24 who said Ebdon plays slow because he is tactical that is nonsense. There was not one tactical shot in his break of 12 that took him 5 minutes.

  • Comment number 32.

    Like all sports, it is the contrast that makes it great. Ebdon is not everyone's cup of tea but he is a very good player.

    It is about cycles. Griffiths, Reardon, Thorburn, etc spawned a number of slow deliberate players who tried to replicate their success with the same style.

    The Davis took it to a clinical level.

    Then Hendry came along and suddenly the game was full of young players aspiring to play his style. The late 90s and early 2000s were all about trying to do what he had done and the same way he did it.

    Then Ronnie came along and played the Alex Higgins style of tryign the impossible and playing fast. And we see plenty of players now trying to replicate that.

    Basically, this is a great time for snooker. Skill levels are still going up, the number of high breaks is increasing, players from around the world are coming into the game and every tournament is wide open. You can't say there is ever a nailed on favourite for any tournament.

    Ebdon simply offers one style of play that allows us the ability to contrast it with others. Sure, he isn't always exciting but he maximises what he has and has buckets of heart. If all players were like Ronnie, people would complain that they are all the same!

    And, to echo Ben's comment, I've always found Ebdon to be unconventional, eloquent and interested in a number of different things. You can't call him boring when he's tried a pop career, lived in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and been world champion at a sport with different colour balls whilst being colour blind!

  • Comment number 33.

    In my humble opinion Peter Ebdon is a master tactician. I admit I am a fan. I will never forget him banging the table and screaming out loud earlier in his career at the world championships. He is a character. Perhaps he doesn't play safety like the greats use to namely Davis, Hendry and Higgins yes Higgins was a masterly tactician. Nevertheless he is probably the strongest mentally on the circuit. He never gives up and fights as if his life depends on it. Thats why I will be backing him against Ronnie on the handicap +3.5 frames at 10/11. If he gets past O'Sullivan I give a good each way chance of going all the way and at 70-1 thats a great bet.

  • Comment number 34.

    surely you all know that snooker like any other sport/game is about results look at darts theres barraking, football theres diving and nasty word play to get in their heads, and if ronnie, who might i add is my favourite player, wasnt known for his pace im sure he would be doing ''an ebdon'' and playing to his opponents weakness, iv seen ebdon play quik(ish) and he loses, any opponent he faces plays faster than him and if you slow the flow of someones game in any sport you will 9 times out of 10 be victorious, chelsea did it in the cl against barca. so no i dont like his play and no i dont think its the best tact but it works and it CERTAINLY is not cheating, and rocket does need to calm down sometimes and just go with the flow, theres quicker than him emerging and if in 5 years hes still playing the circuit, maybe we will read judd hates o'sullivans slow game!

  • Comment number 35.

    I think O'Sullivan's (and I'm not a fan) fast game teaches bad habbits to young players who think they can run around the table, pull faces and look good at snooker or pool.

    Better to watch someone who takes their time and effort into every shot, John Higgins is the perfect example. He also seems to enjoy the game more.

  • Comment number 36.

    #35

    you cannot teach natural and raw talent, if youngsters tried to copy Ronnie they would eith a) have the same natural talent so still be good at snooker or b) realise playing that way will not able to them reach their full potential

    Ronnie doesnt "look good at snooker" the man is a genius, sometimes.


    I think as a youngster it is better to get a good solid cue action, and your personality around a table will be determined by your own personality as a person.

  • Comment number 37.

    I can sympathise with O'Sullivan, it's like being stuck behind a pensioner doing 15mph when you're in a rush to get home. Ebdon's play is always slow, and I think deliberately slow against all players. His cue goes back and forth about ten times before playing the shot. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with it, but it is tedious and must drive his opponents insane.

    Anyway, at the minute Ronnie is giving Ebdon a lesson, so hopefully it will stay that way.

  • Comment number 38.

    I could sit and watch Snooker all day but Ebdon as good a player he is he is just not entertaining enough to watch so well done Ronnie hope you have a blinding Tournament, This next comment is a little off topic but I thought Mark Allens attitude after his defeat was terrible but its not the first time for him, when he first come on the scene I really liked the look of him I know he's had his problems but theres no need for his attitude problem towards his fellow pros and Snooker bosses.

 

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