Ronnie O’Sullivan’s run at this year’s Northern Ireland Open came to a halt on Thursday afternoon after a collision with a spectator at the Waterfront Hall.
He defeated the snooker superstar 4-3 in the thrilling last 16 tie match against Masters champion Jan Bangtao.
It was during the third frame, with O’Sullivan at the table 1-1, he gestured to the crowd, telling a spectator to “sit down”.
“It’s too much, too much,” he continued.
The referee intervened and asked the officials: “Can you stop people from coming in during the frame?” The request was met with applause from the stands and slogans in support of O’Sullivan.
EuroSport commentator Neil Folds said: “As you can see, he was in custody but obviously there was something bothering him. He certainly expressed his feelings.”
At that point, O’Sullivan was leading 55-0 in the frame, on the way to a 129 break and looking in good shape to reach the quarterfinals.
However, Bangtao won the back-to-back frame in reply to take a 3-2 lead in the best of seven matches. After 73 KO Sullivan’s break to set the decisive frame, he broke down while playing left-handed pink and eventually died in front of his 21-year-old opponent, who will play Mitchell Mann in the quarterfinals.
O’Sullivan caused a stir earlier this week by labeling the area a “flat”.
But the six-time world champion insisted after yesterday’s 32nd victory that he would “never criticize any snooker fan.”
He said it never had anything to do with the crowd, the Belfast mob.
“Setting up there means you can’t get a good atmosphere because no one is sitting there, so you feel like you’re playing in an empty auditorium.
“When I say it’s a flat environment, it’s because you feel like you’re not playing with anyone, you can’t see the crowd.
“The way it was put in, it sounded like I was saying it’s the audience, but it’s not up to the audience – it’s the auditorium, it wasn’t set up correctly and there’s nothing wrong with the audience.
“They have three tables so it’s like you’re playing on the scoreboard. When your fans are down, they cheer you on and keep you going, and that creates a different atmosphere. ۔
“I want to straighten it out because every snooker fan, they’re like family to me so I won’t criticize any snooker fan. They have helped me through a lot of ups and downs over the years.
“It was never trivial in the crowd, it was more that I think the setup doesn’t allow it to be a good environment, so it’s hard to play in those situations – that’s what I wanted to say.”
O’Sullivan has so far won the Northern Ireland Open title, although he reached the final for three consecutive years from 2018 to 2020, having lost at every opportunity to Jude Trump.