Ten years ago, Ronnie O’Sullivan left the melting pot with his fourth world title and the threat of retirement, leaving question marks over his status in the snooker pantheon.
While he was already recognized as the greatest talent in his sport, he fell short of the career stats of his predecessors Steve Davis and Stephen Hendryits longevity was challenged by inner demons that never strayed far from the surface.
Back in 2011, O’Sullivan summed up the agony of expectations that surrounded him, revealing, “When you turn it on, it’s a great feeling, and when you’re not, you feel like you’re letting people down.
“You feel like you’re letting yourself down, you’re wasting your time and nobody is having a good time and they’re waiting for something to happen and it’s not happening. It can be quite demoralizing at times.”
Those question marks were erased Monday night when O’Sullivan departed Judd Trump to win his seventh world championship, matching Hendry’s Crucible record but signaling an unmatched achievement in a career marked in equal measure by fame and controversy.
For all those moments, like the five-minute maximum he served against Mick Price in 1997, there were reprimands and further admissions that gave a glimpse into his troubled mind as he struggled to keep up the enthusiasm to chase Hendry’s record, he always knew was well within his reach.
As a teenager, O’Sullivan scared the established stars of the game. He won 74 of his first 76 games as a professional at Blackpool qualifying school and soon crushed his heroes Davis and Hendry among his victims as he won his first British title in Preston a week before his 18th birthday.
At the Crucible, where it surprisingly took nine visits to win his first grand prize, he lost to Hendry three times but also beat him in two semifinals, 17-4 in 2004 and 17-6 in 2008.
Hendry referred to O’Sullivan after this second semi-final as “by far the best in the world”; Davis said, “He’s the best genius we’ve seen in snooker, possibly in the sport”.
But O’Sullivan, whose father was sentenced to life in prison for murder in 1992, the same year he turned pro, was never far from making headlines for the wrong reasons.
As a 20-year-old, O’Sullivan attacked press officer Mike Ganley – now the tournament director – at the 1996 World Cup and was fined £20,000. Nineteen years later, he would borrow Ganley’s shoes during a game against Craig Steadman after trying to continue in his socks after claiming his shoes were hurting him.
In 1998 he was stripped of the Irish Masters title and £61,000 in prize money after failing a drugs test, and in 2005 his defense of the world title ran aground under controversial circumstances when he gave up 11 of the last 14 frames to lose Peter Ebdon, who clearly upset O’Sullivan with his slow play in the quarterfinals.
The Londoner, who had shaved his head midway through the tournament, asked a spectator for the time and at one point stood in Ebdon’s seat. After that, he signaled his desire to take a break from the game, admitting: ‘It may be that I’ll goodbye.”
O’Sullivan’s third and fourth titles came with victories over Ali Carter in 2008 and 2012, but defending his trophy over Barry Hawkins in 2013 – after partially redeeming his threat of retirement by taking the entire season off – went through a compromised reprimand from referee Michaela Tabb for an obscene gesture during his semi-final win over Trump.
For all its continued threats to walk away, frequent displays of disinterest and additional confrontations with officials who have pushed snooker to the front pages, the sport has eternal gratitude for a player who pushed all boundaries and can now be hailed as the greatest of all time.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/snooker/sullivan-stephen-hendry-steve-davis-judd-trump-preston-b2070099.html Maximum breaks to shoeless errors – there’s never a dull moment with Ronnie O’Sullivan