FEARLESS - that's how snooker maestro Ronnie 'The Rocket' O'Sullivan feels as he prepares to defend the coveted UK crown in York.

And the World No 1, who was in the city yesterday to pave the way for the start of the big event on Sunday, fired a warning to all his opponents that he is hungry for more success.

"If my game is okay then I fear no-one," he asserted, with complete confidence in his ability. "But if it is not then I fear 99 per cent of the other players."

Explaining his attitude, he said of his game: "The quality is there and I know it is good enough to beat anyone."

O'Sullivan, who thrashed Dubliner Ken Doherty 10-1 in last year's final at the Barbican Centre when the championship came to York for the first time, takes the stage a week on Saturday with a second round best of 17 frames encounter with the winner of the first round match between 1991 Embassy world champion and UK king John Parrott and qualifier Adrian Gunnell, the world No 70 from Telford.

The 15-day tournament, with £615,000 total prize money the second biggest event in the snooker calendar, starts at noon this Sunday. There are 48 players in the starting line-up, including the world's top 32.

Between now and his entry into the Barbican playing arena O'Sullivan will not, though, be spending endless hours at the practice table.

"I am doing only about an hour a day now," he said. "I did all my main practice before the start of the season. I don't need to do much now. I have all the practice I need in my bank.

"I am not one of these mechanical players. A lot of my game is 'feel'. "There are two big tournaments I aim for - the UK and the World Championship, and I am hungry, greedy for success. I never settle for second best.

"There are more victories to be had, a lot more and I want to be better than anyone else. I am always trying to improve. I am always pushing myself.

"I know that I can be a far better player. I am worse now than I was when I was 15 and I have the video evidence to prove it. But I don't know why I am not as good as I was then. I can't pick out any reason. If I could I would be a better player now than I am."

While he does not fear any rivals when he is playing at his best, the 27-year-old 2000 world champion from Chingford has a lot of respect for several of his main rivals, including 1998 world champion and twice UK champion John Higgins, and 2000 world champion and former UK winner Mark Williams.

"I think John Higgins has the best snooker brain on the circuit," said O'Sullivan. "Mark Williams has changed his game and is more consistent. He considers his shots more and he is one player who can beat anyone at his best."

O'Sullivan also rates highly Yorkshire star Paul Hunter, recent winner of the British Open, Matthew Stevens, Stephen Lee and record seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry.

"Stephen Hendry took the game to a new level when he was at the top and now a lot of players have reached that level. Young players are always striving to reach new levels.

"Snooker is a one-to-one intense battle. There is no hiding place out there. Each player is watching the other for signs of weakness and if there is even a wince it can make his opponent feel better. I don't mind showing reaction if I want to, it doesn't concern me to do it."

He is looking forward to the longer format of best of 17 frames that comes into play at the UK Championship. Until this tournament the earlier rounds in ranking events so far this season have been settled on best of nine frames.

"The longer the season goes on the more comfortable I can feel," said O'Sullivan. "The longer matches make it better."

Updated: 12:48 Friday, November 29, 2002