Article by Jared Martin
Snooker has always been a divisive sport. Some people have found excitement and enthralling entertainment on the 12 by 6 foot table, whilst others have found it monotonous and dull, with some even going as far as to not even consider it a sport. Despite snooker suffering turbulent success over the sports lifetime, there has always been a particular player that would captivate an audience, creating a buzz and atmosphere every time they stepped onto the green baize. During the 70’s and 80’s that player was the erratic but exhilarating Alex Higgins, in the 90’s it was the people’s champion Jimmy White and for over the past fifteen years that accolade has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Ronnie O’Sullivan has been considered by many in the game, players and pundits alike, to be the greatest player of all time. With 26 ranking titles including: five World titles, five Masters crowns, four UK titles, a record 12 maximum breaks and 764 century breaks (2nd only to Stephen Hendry on 775) to his name, it can be hard to argue with this viewpoint, even if Stephen Hendry sits at the overall summit of ranking titles won on 38. The ease and simplicity in which O’Sullivan plays the game, has made him to be labelled a genius and a box office within the sport, selling out venues all over the country and overseas, whether it be in the recent Champion of Champions event in Coventry or a small qualifying event in Barnsley.
Looking back at Ronnie’s career, one could still argue that with all the talent and ability at his disposal, he has somewhat underachieved. With the burden of being the face of snooker and the pressure of having to perform every time he plays thrust upon him, O’Sullivan has not always handled this well and on numerous times throughout his career, been involved in controversial circumstances and threatened to walk away from the game. However over the last three years, O’Sullivan’s mental vulnerability seems to be a thing of the past, with O’Sullivan displaying a much more positive outlook on life and his snooker career in general and all of the credit for that has to go to the work of Dr Steve Peters.
Over the last three years working with Dr Steve Peters, O’Sullivan seems to be far more in control of his emotions and his battle with depression. He has managed to transform himself into one of the most formidable opponents on the snooker circuit, relishing the challenge of being the best and snooker’s main draw. Over the last three years, O’Sullivan seems to be playing better than he ever has and as he nears his 39th birthday, seems to be showing no signs of giving up his mantle just yet.
Nevertheless, despite O’Sullivan’s natural ability allowing him to maintain longevity within the game, one could come to the conclusion that realistically, Ronnie only has about another four or five years left where he can compete at the highest level and be a consistent performer. The day when Ronnie does finally decide to call time on his career will indeed be a major blow for snooker and creates a huge concern for the sport going forward. Unfortunately, despite the abundance of talent available on the snooker circuit, there still seems to be no player that pulls in a crowd, puts bums on seats and generally create an electric atmosphere like O’Sullivan; something the sport has suffered from since the retirement and death of Alex Higgins and the decline in form of the whirlwind Jimmy White who unfortunately does not qualify for majority of events on today’s circuit.
Three years ago, the emergence of a certain Judd Trump who burst onto the scene winning the 2011 China Open, UK championship and coming runner up at the 2011 World Championship final where he displayed breath-taking potting ability and attacking flare that captivated spectators, gave the sport a much needed boost. Fans and pundits were starting to wonder if Judd Trump would fill the void left when O’Sullivan eventually does decide to hang up his waist coat and would be the new face of snooker, drawing in the crowds at sell out arenas.
Unfortunately after much promise, during the 2011 campaign, Judd Trump’s form went missing for a few seasons and the attacking flair that once looked so promising disappeared and the snooker world were left wondering if indeed Judd Trump was going to be the next crowd favourite. Nevertheless Trump’s form seems to have returned this season, with him winning the Australian Open and coming runner up at the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany.
More recently, at the Champion of Champions in Coventry, he was involved in arguably one of the best finals of the last five years, coming from 8-3 down against O’Sullivan, reeling off four frames with a multiple of big breaks, including back to back centuries and scoring over 300 unanswered points before ultimately being defeated 10-7. After the match, both players were given a standing ovation. O’Sullivan and Trump were clearly thrilled to have been involved in such an incredible final and both players gave humorous post match interviews.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season and beyond, one can only hope that these two players meet in more finals and grace the snooker world with their attacking prowess. It is clear that O’Sullivan and Trump have huge respect for each other, bringing out the best in each other’s game. Hopefully with O’Sullivan staying in the game for a few more years and the confidence and form of Trump remerging, who knows, maybe we could have another big rivalry on our hands akin to the White v Hendry rivalry that dominated the 90’s. The future of snooker may not be so bad after all.
Photos courtesy of Monique Limbos