Ronnie O’Sullivan can win a sixth world title, but is already snooker’s greatest
Ronnie O'Sullivan's latest bid for a sixth world title ended in disappointment, but Desmond Kane says it is a nonsensical argument to suggest he must equal Stephen Hendry's haul of seven to be regarded as the greatest of all time.
It felt like the snooker Gods were in mourning in Sheffield on Tuesday morning.
Not only was it raining and pouring, but snow astonishingly fell from the steely skies above perhaps to symbolise the game’s main attraction being frozen out of this year’s tournament in a rather cold and cruel manner.
There is no more room at the Crucible inn for snooker's great maverick after Barry 'The Hawk' Hawkins swooped to condemn O'Sullivan to his first loss in the last 16 since 2009, a most chastening experience for the five-times champion who compiled glorious runs of 139, 88, 103, 68, 118, 82, 89, 93, 70, 124, 88 and 63 yet still found a way to lose.
It is always a bit annoying to neutrals when O’Sullivan is bundled out of a tournament. Simply because he is a such a joy to behold when he brandishes a snooker cue.
Ronnie O'Sullivan in action at the Crucible Theatre.Eurosport
That is not to say he must always win. He is not everybody’s cup of tea, but he continues to sprinkle gold dust over the sport, adding a frisson that stretches beyond the green baize.
As he told me afterwards, the reasons behind his 13-12 loss was because of a bout of self-harming rather than anything Hawkins, admirable though his fortitude was, threw at him.
In an epic match, O’Sullivan totted up 12 frame-winning breaks in 25 frames, and would have trousered a few more frames if his safety game had matched his scoring prowess.
Back in deepest Essex today, you suspect O’Sullivan would have remained annoyed by losing such a match if he witnessed how Hawkins collapsed less than a day later in falling 7-1 behind Marco Fu in the quarter-finals.
One suspects Hawkins ran his race by holding himself together to complete a first win over O’Sullivan since 2002. It was his final, and astonishing stuff by the Ditton player only four months after he was disemboweled in losing the Masters final to O'Sullivan 10-1.
He said Jesus Christ a few times on Monday, and probably spoke in less holier terms after his first session again Fu on Tuesday.
Ronnie O'Sullivan shows off his five world titlesEurosport
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and O’Sullivan was man enough to admit he does feel the strain of being tournament favourite.
He also said he was “devastated” to lose, dispelling the notion that he can be accused of not caring.
O’Sullivan will be 41 the next time he washes up at the Crucible, and there is already a few commentators willing to ask the question if his final prospects of winning here disappeared with his defeat to Hawkins.
Judging by his voracious appetite for scoring, it would be simply ridiculous to suggest O’Sullivan cannot win a sixth nor a seventh title here.
Yet the record books should not be used as an argument to suggest O’Sullivan is not already the game’s greatest player.
Much continues to be made about O’Sullivan being two world titles behind Stephen Hendry’s haul of seven in the 1990s, and one behind Steve Davis (1980s) and Ray Reardon (1970s).
He does not need to win one more or two more world titles to be regarded as the greatest in the history of the game. It is a silly debate because are we seriously suggesting O’Sullivan would not have won 10 in the 1970s or 1980s, or a few more in the early 90s when Hendry, heading towards his prime, had already collected three of his seven?
"You will always get people who will point the finger at the record books to argue the point, but if he wants to and is hungry enough, Ronnie can go well into his 40s as the most incredible genius snooker has ever seen," Davis has pointed out.
O’Sullivan holds most of the key records in the sport. Will he win again at the Crucible? If his mind is focused on the task in hand, there is no physical obstacle to prevent him prevailing at a venue where he won after taking a year out in 2013. He will start as favourite next year.
“Listen, at the moment, I’m absolutely devastated to have not got through,” he said. “25 appearances here, five wins, so that is a one-in-five shot. This year it wasn’t meant to be, but I look forward to coming back here.
“I think my best form here was in 2012, 2013 and 2014. I think in those three years, I was as strong as I’ve ever been. “I’ve still nicked a couple of tournaments this year and last year, and I feel like I’m not doing too badly for a 40-year-old."
O’Sullivan has already passed Stephen Hendry’s record of 775 for the most competitive centuries in the sport last year. He passed the 800-mark in his career at the Championship League in January and will hit 1,000 before he retires. He has enjoyed the most maximums in the sport with 13. He equalled Hendry’s record of six Masters title in January.
O’Sullivan is the greatest player and greatest entertainer of the modern era, a walking soap opera of unpredictably that merely adds to the thickening of the plot. The public can't get enough of 'The Rocket' and the personal undulations he seems to encounter like no other.
“He’s not the same person that Steve and I are in terms of what we did to get to the top," said Hendry this week. "Ronnie is a different character, and that is what makes Ronnie Ronnie. He’s never going to be the same as us. You can’t criticise and say he should have done that because he’s done what he had to do."
"Ronnie is the best player to ever pick up a cue," said Bingham.”But to be the greatest player you have to beat the records."
Isn’t the best the greatest? Nobody has played snooker to a higher standard.
If it is a numbers game, Joe Davis is the greatest with 15 titles, but then we know this is not true.
Yet the numbers in such an argument do not stack up when O’Sullivan has won and continues to excel in the greatest eras snooker has known.
Adding a sixth world title would merely remind us that there will never quite be another player like him, but should not be regarded as a necessity in anticipating how history will judge him.
Desmond Kane at the Crucible Theatre