O'Sullivan says China in pole position to 'monopolise' snooker

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Snooker legend Ronnie O'Sullivan said Monday that China is primed to "monopolise" the sport and boasts three or four players who have recently emerged as potential world champions.

Speaking to AFP during a trip to Singapore to mark the launch of his new snooker academy, the reigning seven-time world champion also predicted the game was set to grow rapidly in Asia.

"China have done a really good job of, over the last 20 years, bringing a lot of young talent into the game," said the 46-year-old Englishman nicknamed "The Rocket".

O'Sullivan said Ding Junhui, a trailblazer for snooker in China, was "fantastic" and had inspired many others.

"Just recently there's been three or four very, very good Chinese players that have come through that are possibly potential world champions."

Chinese players could "possibly" dominate snooker in future, he said, adding: "China seems to be better placed to monopolise the game."

Other Chinese stars to have emerged in recent years include the 22-year-old Yan Bingtao, who won the Masters last year, and Zhao Xintong, 25.

While the world rankings are still dominated by Britons -- with O'Sullivan top of the pile -- Zhao has risen to sixth and Yan is 15th.

O'Sullivan, who last month won his seventh snooker World Championship title -- equalling Stephen Hendry's modern-day record -- did however add there was still a chance for other countries to rival China's progress.

The fast growth of the game in the world's most populous nation does not "mean other countries can't get their act together and try and do the same as what China's doing", he said.

- Growing popularity in Asia -

Widely regarded as the most naturally talented player in snooker history, O'Sullivan was in Singapore to officially launch the Ronnie O'Sullivan Snooker Academy, which will seek to nurture talent in Asia.

And he predicted snooker's popularity in the region was set to grow.

"Every time when we come to Asia -- China, Thailand, Singapore -- there is just that excitement," he said.

"I definitely think if the sport wants to grow and be as big as possibly golf, tennis... I think maybe this (Asia) is the place that it could happen."

O'Sullivan is set to take part in an exhibition tournament on Saturday in Singapore alongside China's Zhao and women's world champion Nutcharut "Mink" Wongharuthai of Thailand.

Despite his many achievements in snooker, O'Sullivan conceded that he did not have much interest in the game, beyond playing it.

"I don't really have an interest that much in snooker," he said, echoing previous comments he has made on his complex relationship with the sport.

"I like to play it, but other than that, I just don't get involved in it... I don't really know what goes on in the snooker world."

He also refused to be drawn on whether he might retire soon.

"I've never had a plan what I want to do," he said.

"First and foremost, I just enjoy my life."

sr/pst