Ronnie O’Sullivan has clarified his comments about the atmosphere at the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast and insisted that he would “never criticise any snooker fan”.
But he has explained he was unimpressed by the venue’s set-up, not the fans.
“It’s never got anything to do with the crowd, the Belfast crowd,” O’Sullivan, 45, told Eurosport.
O’Sullivan said he felt “very bored” during his first-round win over Andy Hicks, but after securing his place in the last 16 by beating Alfie Burden 4-1, the world number three felt compelled to expand on his remarks.
“The set-up out there means you can’t get a good atmosphere because there is no-one sitting down the side, so you feel like you’re playing to an empty auditorium.
“When I said it was a flat atmosphere, it’s because you feel like you’re not playing to anyone, you can’t see a crowd.
“The way it was put across, it looked like I was saying it was the fans, but it’s not up to the fans – it’s the auditorium, it wasn’t set up right and that’s no fault of the fans.”
‘Snooker fans like family to me’
O’Sullivan, who is hoping to win his first Northern Ireland Open title after losing the past three finals to Judd Trump, added: “They’ve got three tables so it’s like you’re playing to a scoreboard. When you have fans down the side, they gee you up and keep you going, and it does create a different atmosphere.
“I’d just like to put that straight because every snooker fan, they’re like family to me so I wouldn’t criticise any snooker fan.
“It was never a slight at the crowd, it was more that I think the set-up doesn’t allow it to be a good atmosphere, so it’s difficult playing under those circumstances – that’s what I was trying to say.”
O’Sullivan set up a last-16 encounter with China’s Yan Bingtao after seeing off fellow Englishman Burden in convincing fashion.
Four-time world champion John Higgins will face three-time winner Mark Williams for a place in the quarter-finals after they beat Luca Brecel and Jak Jones respectively, with Williams having battled gout in his left foot to beat Elliot Slessor on Monday.
World number five Kyren Wilson is out, however, after losing his second-round match to fellow Englishman Mitchell Mann.
Mark Selby and three-time defending champion Judd Trump, ranked first and second in the world, are in action against Gary Wilson and Lu Ning on Wednesday evening.