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Maverick snooker player Ronnie O'Sullivan has revealed that one of the unlikely reasons behind his decision to return to the sport is his friendship with controversial British artist Damien Hirst.
Hirst, whose works include a bisected cow and calf suspended in formaldehyde, has regularly attended O'Sullivan's matches in the past and has compared his friend to late Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.
O'Sullivan faces Scotland's Marcus Campbell in the first round of the World Championship in Sheffield, northern England, on Saturday, when he will begin his defence of the trophy he won for the fourth time last year.
Although he has not played in a major match since defeating Ali Carter in the 2012 final, he says he is more excited about the social aspect of the tournament than the competition itself.
"The only person in my corner will be Damien Hirst," O'Sullivan said.
"He loves me and I love him and we're best mates, and everybody else will fit around what we do.
"That's why I'm coming back to snooker, because I miss seeing Damien, I miss seeing (Hirst's personal assistant) Sylvia. I miss seeing all of my little friends that used to love getting away to snooker tournaments.
"The minute I said 'I'm not playing', I knew I'd miss out on those trips with my friends.
"I know it's 10 o'clock Saturday morning and I'll be there, and if Damien's not there I'll be on my own, but I'll be all right. I'm 37 years of age, I'm sweet. Nothing scares me."
Hirst was reportedly drawn to O'Sullivan out of fascination with the 37-year-old's impulsive behaviour, but the cueman from Chigwell, east of London, says work with sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters has helped curb his more erratic tendencies.
"Since I decided to come back to playing snooker, I see Steve quite a bit," O'Sullivan said.
"We're more friends now. There's nothing really I can be told now. Once I've sucked knowledge up, I've sucked it up.
"I just need to put into practice what I've learnt in that year I had last year. We're just friends and he's here to support me."
O'Sullivan announced that he would be taking time away from snooker in November, only to reveal in February that he had decided to make a comeback.
He spent time working as a farm hand during his career hiatus and said the experience only made him appreciate his snooker career more.
"It's better than working on the farm," he said. "I tried that one. That did my head in."