Zhao Xintong Tells Ronnie O’Sullivan’s Guidance, Snooker Goals and Loving Sheffield Life

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Zhao Xintong puts his game together to reach the top of snooker (Image: Getty Images)

Zhao Xintong has had a significant breakthrough in the top tier of snooker over the past year, but while aiming for the top of the sport, he is focusing on keeping the pressure off so far.

The 25-year-old made some fantastic performances to win the UK Championship and German Masters last season while picking up his first-ever victory in a match at Crucible, prompting him to finish the campaign as number six in the world rankings.

Having reached a semi-final before the British triumph, it has been a remarkable boost for the Chinese star as he begins to fulfill the enormous talent he has always shown.

Zhao remembers a decisive victory over John Higgins at the UK Championship, which markedly improved his confidence, while it is another member of the ’92 class who has even more influence on his career.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has chosen to take Zhao under his wings, offering him advice by hand and has clearly been very interested in Cyclone, as was proven in the Championship League last week when Rocket watched all three of his matches.

“He’s a very nice guy, and this year he’s really helped me,” Zhao said Metro.co.uk.

‘In the Championship League he saw my matches and he told me where I can get better and where I need to learn. He said I played well, which is very nice.

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Zhao Xintong won all three of his matches in the first stage of the Championship League (Image: Getty Images)

“It’s primarily mental help. Before I asked him a question: How can you control the fight and make the opponent feel pressured?

‘When I played in the Championship League, he said I have the answer to that question. If you play well, feel confident, the opponent will feel pressured. ‘

O’Sullivan has a profound impact on Zhao, as the rising star focuses more on trying to play in the style of the world champion than on thinking about the world championship titles themselves.

Zhao is a natural, fluent, attacking player with great balance and believes that it will give titles to concentrate on having fun and playing the way he wants.

“Ronnie is fantastic. He is the top player, a legend, the best player. In the future I will play like him,” Zhao continued.

‘I don’t want to think about world championships, just play like him, enjoy snooker and make people happy.

‘I do not want to think about titles. I think if you play well, titles are easy. I need to do better. More training and games better than last year, that’s important to me. If I play well, championships will not be a problem.

‘Now is just the beginning. I need more training, more tournaments, winning more matches and I want to be more confident. ‘

Despite not trying to focus on silverware, Zhao obviously wants more titles to his name, and he is keen that his amazing last season should not be a glimpse into the pot.

He enjoys the limelight and the pressure that has come with his success so far, and expects more to come.

“I don’t just want to win my first titles and no one in a few years, I want to win more matches,” he said.

‘It’s different than before because I want to be world number one and world champion, but I did not know how it feels.

‘Now I understand it a little and there is more pressure. That’s normal, I think, and if you want to be famous and successful, you have to enjoy it. And I enjoy it, I’m so happy when everyone knows me.

‘I feel more pressure, but I’m enjoying it now. I do not know about the future, maybe I will win more titles and there is more pressure, but now I enjoy it. ‘

When Zhao is in the process of singing, he certainly does not seem to feel much pressure with a cue in his hand floating around the table and making the break-building look effortless.

It may not be quite as easy for him as it seems, but he thinks it is his love of the game that makes it look so simple.

“Snooker makes me happy when I play snooker I feel comfortable and confident,” he said.

‘I think because I play fast, people think I do not think too much and it is easy, but it is not easy.’

China’s number one is a resident of the city most associated with snooker, Sheffield, where he beat Jamie Clarke in the first round at Crucible this year before falling to Stephen Maguire in the final 16.

In the end, he left disappointed, but he enjoyed his victory at the sport’s most iconic venue and does not want to see the World Cup moved from snooker’s spiritual and his actual home.

“I was very happy, I enjoyed it,” Zhao said of his Crucible experience. ‘I think Sheffield is the best place, best venue, snookers home is here and the best tournament has to be in Sheffield.

‘I have lived here for six years. I think Sheffield is a lovely city. When I go to another city or another country for a week or 10 days, I would like to return to Sheffield. It’s my home.

‘I have friends in Sheffield, it’s nice here. I bought a new apartment close to the city center. ‘

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Zhao returns to action at European Masters qualifiers next week (Image: Getty Images)

Also in Sheffield is Zhao’s training base, Victoria’s Academy, where he plays alongside the likes of Yan Bingtao and Fan Zhengyi.

There has been remarkable success for the three young Chinese stars over the last few years, and thanks to the atmosphere and set-up at the Sheffield venue, Zhao expects a lot more to come.

“Victoria” Academy is very nice, every day we train here, it’s not too big, but it’s very friendly, he said. ‘We play against each other every day: Bingtao, Fan Zhengyi, Lyu Haotion, the guys from Ukraine, are all very friendly.

‘We help one another. If I play well, they have confidence and think they can do it. Just like Bingtao won the Masters, so I won the British Championship, it makes us all confident, it’s very nice.

‘They want to win more tournaments, everyone here wants to. Ashley Hugill is better now than before, he played World Cup this year against Neil Robertson, he played really well, he can do it. ‘

Zhao has done that and he seems to be doing a lot more as he continues to add to his game with relentless training and the influence of the current world champion.

He mentions pressure a lot, dealing with it and making the right decisions when it hits is what he sees as the last piece of the puzzle. If he can do that, the rest of the trip could be in trouble.

‘When you play against the top players, you are 50-50 to win the match, but you have to be calm and it is very difficult. It’s not easy, he said.

“As Ronnie said, what matters in snooker is not the snooker, but controlling your heart and your mentality.

‘I just want to enjoy the fights and win every fight, but not think too much about it.’

MORE: Ronnie O’Sullivan responds to a comfortable start to the season in Championship League Snooker

MORE: Ronnie O’Sullivan describes his work with Zhao Xintong and claims: ‘He could be the greatest ever’

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