Jimmy White interview: How Ronnie O’Sullivan inspired Whirlwind’s fairytale run at the UK Championship in York

The 60-year-old will leave the UK Championship at York tonight – 30 years after winning the UK title in 1992 – to face Welshman Ryan Day. It will be his biggest match since playing in the Masters in 2010, and he is the oldest player to qualify for the last 32 since Eddie Charlton in 1993.

A rejuvenated white showed flashes of brilliance which made him a fan favorite for over 40 years, battling through four qualifying rounds – beating Stephen Maguire and Dominic Dale along the way – at Sheffield’s Ponds Forge this week simply to hit the TV stages at the Barbican.

The Whirlwind is rightly considered snooker royalty, one of the sport’s pioneers – winning all the sport has to offer except the World Championship, where he fell at the last hurdle six times – having been professional for 42 years.

Twelve years after his last appearance at a Triple Crown event, Jimmy White is back at the UK Championship in York (Photo: John Gichigi/Getty Images)

He freely admits he thought his silverware hunting days were over, but credits his time working on the Eurosport commentary team – alongside O’Sullivan – with inspiring him on the table.

“I’ve always played exhibitions and demos, some locally, some around the world,” White told The Yorkshire Post. “You have to keep an eye on the inside.

“Probably 20 years ago I was like ‘well, I’m just going to play on the exhibition side’, I wasn’t too concerned about the competitions.

“But for the past five years, since working with Eurosport, around Ronnie O’Sullivan – I’ve always had the passion – but I seem to have the drive to train again.

Jimmy White has been a professional for over 40 years. (Photo: John Gichigi/Getty Images)

“Now all of a sudden I’ve hit form and I know that this type of game I have can win a tournament. I’m thrilled with my game right now.

“I’ve played Ronnie in exhibitions all over the world – and he’s like Rafael Nadal in exhibition tennis – he’s always trying to annihilate the guy in the other seat. It keeps me sharp.

“I love the game, I love the competition and I didn’t care who I drew in the tournament.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m really looking forward to York, it’s going to be fantastic.”

Working with Ronnie O’Sullivan helped inspire the revival of Jimmy White (Photo: Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)

White beat John Parrott 16-9 to win his only British title in 1992 at Preston’s Guild Hall.

“I can’t believe that was 30 years ago,” White said. “I’m 60, but I still feel like I’m 25.”

He arrived in York last night and insists he is not here ‘to play up the numbers’, believing he still has the game to be a major contender.

A week fighting for qualifying in Sheffield certainly shows that his dedicated work on the mental side of his game is paying off.

Jimmy White (right) reached six world championship finals in the 1990s. (Picture: Allsport UK/Allsport)

“I’ve been working on the mental side of the game for the past few weeks,” admitted White, guaranteed at least £10,000 at York to boost his current world ranking of 89. “My mindset sometimes, even when I I was playing Dominic Dale and 2-1 I lost all focus You get a little negative when you lose focus but I just had to say to myself ‘come on keep it up’ It was the same against Maguire, I was trailing 3-1 but I still wanted to win.

“If you have that inner confidence, it’s great and it keeps you going. It keeps your expectations high of yourself. So when I had an opportunity, I took it.

“If I take my practice game, my A game, I would win the world championship. But that makes it last 17 days. I haven’t even kept it for a week for a long time.

“So that shows how important my game is. As you get older, your level of concentration goes down.

“Before, I could play, in bowls, and part of my brain would say to me ‘did you water the plants before leaving home?’ The other part of my brain is telling me “that’s irrelevant, you have a job to do, potting those balls”. I have all these conversations (in my head).

“At the moment I’m well tuned which is good and I’m just focusing on the game, training is going well and I just can’t wait.”

White will be joined in York by three-time British champion Ding Junhui, who also struggled in the qualifying rounds in his hometown of Sheffield.

Ding booked his return to York with a 6-4 loss to Robert Milkins.

“I missed a good chance to win 6-3 and then I was worried because Robert is still a dangerous player,” said Ding, 35, who won his first British title at the Barbican as a teenager in 2005.

“It’s been a long time since I won anything, I don’t know what happened. I focus on training, but during a game sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

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