Elliot Slessor will face Ronnie O’Sullivan for the second time this season at the China Open in Beijing, but having already beaten the Rocket this campaign, the world number 73 isn’t intimidated by the prospect of another match with the five-time World Champion.
The pair’s last meeting was at the Northern Ireland Open last November. Having won the English Open, O’Sullivan still had the opportunity to claim snooker’s £1 million bonus, which is attached to winning all four Home Nations events. However, he was stopped in his tracks by Slessor, who stormed to a surprise 4-1 win.
The 2018 China Open has taken up added significance after a rise in prize money has seen it become the second most lucrative event in the sport outside of the World Championship. However, for Slessor the prospect of a showdown with the Rocket is enough motivation in itself.
Slessor said: “It is going to be a packed crowd and that is what I like to play in front of. With the prospect of facing Ronnie, I’ve found this tournament a lot easier to practise for. I enjoy the big games and it is natural to be able to get up for them.
“Just to play against him is a huge honour. He is the greatest player that has ever lived and facing him was one of my ambitions setting out. Win or lose that is a dream in itself.
“It was a fantastic experience in Belfast. I know going into these games that if I can perform and he doesn’t quite play his best then I have a chance and fancy the job. I have high expectations of myself. Everybody knows he is the best ever, but in many ways he is the same as everybody else. We all have days where we don’t perform. He just plays to a higher level of consistency than the rest of us.”
Slessor went on to record the best ranking run of his career at the Northern Ireland Open, reaching the semi-final stage. He bowed out with a 6-2 defeat against Mark Williams and although the 23-year-old wasn’t happy with his performance in the last four, he hopes to draw from the experience.
“I really did have mixed emotions, as my semi-final performance was probably one of the worst of this season. I was absolutely delighted to go on the best run of my career, but once you get to these matches you want to perform. I’ve watched that match back a few times and I was frustrated that I gifted him a lot of his chances. I tend to look back on and review the matches where I have played badly, rather than the better ones. You are more interested in those ones because that is where you can learn.
“Mark didn’t need to play his best in that game, but he has been around and won everything there is to win. There aren’t many situations he hasn’t been in at some point in his career. You can’t buy that experience. I just have to keep trying to build mine up.”
The Gateshead potter had admitted in Belfast that he was ready to quit the sport prior to the season getting underway due to financial pressures.
“I had basically chucked it. I had 10 days when I was near to giving up, and found out that Barry Hearn had cut the entrance fees,” said Slessor. “That saved me about £5,000 so I thought I’d come back and give it another go. It relieves the pressure so much when you are constantly fighting tooth and nail.”
The Englishman is now reaping the rewards from his decision to stick at it. However, he needs some strong showings in the final two events of the season to push his way from 73rd into the top 64 of the world rankings. His performances this season should be enough to maintain his professional status via the one-year list. However, he is hopeful he can clinch a spot in the top half of the tour, which allows him to keep his current ranking points.
“I’m desperate to try and get into that top 64. I feel like a player who should be in the top half of the standings. Not only because of this season, but I do feel I have matured a lot. It is still in my hands. I’ve taken the approach to stop looking at the rankings because it is too frustrating seeing other people around me get the results. I’m going to concentrate on my own games and follow my matches. If I can win enough then I will get into that 64, it doesn’t matter what everybody else is doing.”
Following his trip to China, Slessor will wrap his season up at the World Championship. He’ll be at the qualifiers in Sheffield and is hoping for an upturn in fortunes at snooker’s biggest events and is aiming to reach the final stages for the first time.
“It is the ultimate ambition growing up as a child. You watch everyone play at the Crucible. It is just something you always want to do. If you don’t every qualify then I think it is a crying shame. You see some of the people on tour who have given their lives to snooker and haven’t made it there. I think that will always be in the back of their heads and it becomes a chip on the shoulder. I want to get it done as soon as possible so you feel more comfortable qualifying there in the future.”