‘A miraculous work of sports Pulp Fiction’ – How Ronnie O’Sullivan defied time to cement legacy as snooker GOAT
Ronnie O'Sullivan's magnificent seventh world title has finally secured his status as snooker's greatest player of all time. In equalling Stephen Hendry's haul of Crucible titles from the 1990s, O'Sullivan has defied time and accepted wisdom to emerge triumphant at the game's ultimate event. At 46, he also continues to exhibit a level of class and commitment without compare in any sport.
The totemic Crucible Theatre in Sheffield began May by shredding nerves to a pulp with more razzmatazz lined up before the month is out.
After Ronnie O’Sullivan’s name reverberated wildly around the taut little venue in celebration of a wonderful seventh World Championship victory, Jarvis Cocker – lead singer of the local Britpop band Pulp – is due in town to discuss his new book Good Pop, Bad Pop.
For O’Sullivan, the things he keeps hidden perhaps says more about him than what he puts on display.
The meaning of the moment was there for the 1000 or so entranced spectators to witness inside the Crucible and millions watching across the world as snooker’s man of steel was rightly overcome by his career-defining moment in the Steel City.
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The glorious outpouring of emotion he revealed after finally completing the ongoing O'Sullivan opus did not require any words of explanation.
For once, O’Sullivan seemed lost for them as he embraced Trump with as much warmth as a long-lost brother, green baize brothers in arms after their unique generation game was finally won 18-13 in rousing fashion by the snooker GOAT.
O’Sullivan compiled 120, 118, 105, 97, 88, 88, 87, 85, 82, 75, 68, 66, 64, 60, 55 and 50 including his 200th century break in the second frame of the final with Trump contributing 109, 107, 105, 97, 80, 73, 72, 64, 59 and 52 in a genuine heavyweight joust.
'Snooker Gods Decide'
He shed as many tears as the balls he potted on a Bank Holiday Monday that was worth infinitely more to him than the £500,000 cheque banked in victory.
Some might say O’Sullivan’s sensational rise to a seventh world title was the equivalent of potting Pulp Fiction, but it could never be described as kitsch such was the level of quality, concentration and desire he displayed to finally make good on his early promise.
That he is did so in victory over 32-year-old Judd Trump – the 2019 champion and the sport’s most prolific tournament winner in recent times – merely enhances the significance of the occasion, one he has described as “probably the greatest result I've ever had”.
“I've never bothered about records,” he said. “You let the snooker gods decide what they're going to decide and this 17 days, they were on my side."
As they were in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2020. Somebody up there likes him.
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"It's an amazing achievement and he'll go down as the best player of all time. It wouldn't surprise me if he beats the record and gets to eight,” said Trump.
He seems to still want it more than anyone else. I think he'll definitely get one more. If he gets another one next year, he might be able to get to 10.
O’Sullivan is no longer merely overcoming younger rivals in snooker, he is also turning back time in an outrageous and almost miraculous exhibition of sporting longevity.
Accepted wisdom suggests he should no longer be burning blokes like Trump, but then again Father Time is also a huge fan of O’Sullivan doing his thing with a snooker cue. 30 years after turning professional, he is in his pomp with commentators forced to swallow the old cliché: “he never used to miss those”.
He also never used to enjoy such an intense level of focus when he was younger.
A seventh world title finally ends any dispute over his standing in the sport as the greatest of all time. To suggest otherwise is an unsubstantiated act of defiance.
He draws level with Stephen Hendry – the prolific Scotsman who neatly bookended his world collection between 1990 and 1999 – but never conquered the Crucible beyond the age of 30.
Steve Davis – the six-time winning machine from the 1980s – never lifted a seventh beyond the age of 31.
“Davis and Hendry did almost all of their stuff in a 10-year stint and that's it. Ronnie's done his in 30 years,” said Cliff Thorburn, the 1980 world champion and orchestrator of the Crucible’s maiden 147 break in 1983.
He's only won seven, but with Davis and Hendry they basically stopped winning. It just stopped. But Ronnie's shown up all the time, and he's dug as deep as anyone at this tournament.
Hendry’s record stood for 23 years, but is now shared by the effervescent O’Sullivan, who at the age of 46 years and 148 days is also the oldest world champion since the Crucible first hosted the televised torture chamber in 1977, usurping his former tactical coach Ray Reardon.
Welshman Reardon was 45 years and 203 days when he completed a 25-18 win over South Africa’s Perrie Mans in the 1978 final to revel in a sixth title.
To say O’Sullivan has made up for lost time in snooker would be an understatement. Like the movie Pulp Fiction, his life and times on the table have not moved to a chronological beat.
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O’Sullivan carried off his fourth world title at the age of 36 in 2012 in what was his 24th ranking victory with the work of sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters pivotal in his renaissance period.
In comparison, Hendry won his 36th and final title aged 36 in Malta in 2005.
Over the past decade, O’Sullivan has lifted another 15 ranking titles, including three more world titles, while increasing his Masters haul from four to seven. The consistency is extraordinary.
In 1995, the same year Jarvis Cocker and Pulp’s Common People was riding high, O’Sullivan was cock of the walk at the old Wembley Conference Centre, claiming the Masters title with a 9-3 flogging of his fellow 19-year-old John Higgins.
He again overcame time-honoured foe Higgins 17-11 in a tactically absorbing semi-final on Saturday in finally getting around to clearing up the matter of that elusive seventh trophy that for so long seemed so unlikely.
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Due to his obvious disliking and grumpiness swirling around the demands of the sport’s ultimate test, Ali Carter – who lost twice to O’Sullivan in the 2008 and 2012 finals respectively – even suggested the pandemic tournament in August 2020 would be his last serious bid for the trophy because the stress test of expectant fans would not burden him.
"For me, this no-crowd scenario favours the Rocket big time," said Carter on Twitter. "I think he wins it this year – and will be his last. Respectfully, the no-crowd is a massive leveller in my honest opinion."
One recalls asking Ronnie in a media conference whether or not Hendry’s record was gone after an absurd 10-8 defeat to amateur hopeful James Cahill in the first round of the 2019 World Championship when he opted for a Travis Bickle-style buzz cut halfway through a contest mired in regret and brutal self-reflection.
"You have to look at it in a certain way," he said after a crushing exit.
"Some people are driven by records, and some are not. If they are driven by records, they will want to go away and work at it. Some people are not. Some people will take it event by event, and have more short-term goals."
Lifting the World Championship as a seventh wonder of the sporting world has been the result of an incomparable 30-year body of work. Yet if feels like a rightful fit. A place for everything and everything in its place, so to speak.
If O’Sullivan had ended his career one down on Hendry, it would have felt like an imbalance in the snooker solar system, but suddenly all feels proper in the galaxy.
He will also remarkably start the new season as the sport’s world No. 1 two decades after he first scaled the summit in 2002.
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The learned manner in which he toppled Trump was in itself marvellous as he was forced to graft mentally and emotionally for his victory against a prodigious long potter, who recovered from 12-5 adrift to close to 14-11 on Monday afternoon and plunge the outcome into doubt.
Dennis Taylor’s comeback from 8-0 behind in his 18-17 victory against Steve Davis in the 1985 ‘black-ball’ final felt possible, but O’Sullivan responded in champion style as he maintained his composure superbly to fend off the gathering storm. His trademark no-nonsense demeanour, stylish swagger and fearless shot making quickly dismissed any sense of a wobble.
Boxing and figure skating are two sports that are settled on the views of judges for performance. If snooker added marks for artistic merit, O’Sullivan would be perched atop his craft for eternity.
It is not merely winning that adds to his legend, it is how he performs the sport that is endlessly fascinating. The speed of thought and technique establishes O’Sullivan on a snooker plain as a spiritual experience with 1,169 century breaks and counting compiled.
'So much good stuff'
A bit like Roger Federer in tennis, it is all at once both soothing and reassuring on the senses. You can throw O’Sullivan’s name into the mix alongside Rafael Nadal, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus or Lionel Messi as the finest any sporting field has to offer.
He can rival any of them for a level of sporting genius that is like second nature.
He has been installed as 4/1 favourite for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ahead of the world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury, but being nominated by the Beeb’s “expert” panel of judges amid some eccentric thought processes might be the most difficult part of that particular mission.
Yet with O’Sullivan, a touch of farce is also never far away. His interview with Eurosport after ending his first session 4-4 with Higgins in the semi-finals on Thursday night was comic gold, so amusing it almost felt like a parody.
Like some sort of classic Vic Reeves sketch from back in the day, you should give it a watch for amusement as O’Sullivan explains his ambitions.
“I’m here to play, have fun like I was when I was a 10-year-old,” he comments looking straight down the camera.
“If I win great, if I lose I can get over it. There is so much good stuff going on, if I lose it is a little dent whereas before it would be a write-off.
The car would be in the menders for six months. Nowadays it just like a little dink, it is just a little polish up and we move on.
“Life is great, life is just fantastic.”
Six-time world finalist Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White, who celebrated his 60th birthday on Monday, refused to accept such sentiment.
“Maybe they caught him at the wrong time,” said White. “That’s not the truth, he’s trying his absolute heart out to win this World Championship.
“He’d love to equal Hendry’s record and beat it in the next few years. I don’t buy into that."
The Crucible has been like a Tardis over these past 17 days with the ‘Class of ‘92’ O’Sullivan, Higgins and Mark Williams playing snooker as supremely well as they did in 1992 to reach the last four.
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The 'Class of '22' finds O’Sullivan as the master and commander of the most demanding of all cue sports with his legacy as the snooker GOAT also safely secured.
Preserved by some sort of age-defying emollient in deepest Essex, his commitment to self-improvement remains remarkable.
“I call it the mustard and I enjoy smothering myself in the mustard, because whatever I do after snooker, it’s not going to be mustard,” he once said.
Nobody has cut the mustard in snooker like O’Sullivan, a true original of the species. Nobody ever will.
'He punished the Higgins mistake' - O'Sullivan ruthless in Crucible classic
Rocket's road to seventh heaven
First round: David Gilbert (Eng) 10-5
Second round: Mark Allen (NI) 13-4
Quarter-final: Stephen Maguire (Sco) 13-5
Semi-final: John Higgins (Sco) 17-11
Final: Judd Trump (Eng) 18-13
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