Hector Nunns take on Ronnie’s sixth Masters

O’SULLIVAN RAISES THE BAR YET AGAIN

O'SULLIVAN RAISES THE BAR YET AGAIN

Ronnie O’Sullivan was in the history-making mood at Alexandra Palace on Sunday night as he equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of six Dafabet Masters titles.

The Rocket did it in the grand manner, reeling off a perfect 10 frames in a row to beat a demoralised Barry Hawkins 10-1. That has never before been done at the Masters.

It was the biggest winning margin since Steve Davis whitewashed Mike Hallett 9-0 back in 1988, also the last time there was an all-English line up from the semi-finals onwards.

Not bad for someone who could have been forgiven some rustiness after his eight-month sabbatical, and O’Sullivan’s re-tuning plan worked to perfection.

He effectively sacrificed the German Masters by using those qualifiers for his very first matches back, and then tore through the Group One field at Crondon Park in the Championship League the week before the Masters.

O’Sullivan, who turned 40 in December, becomes the oldest player to win this title since his former mentor Ray Reardon in 1976 at the age of 43. With John Higgins back winning titles, the golden oldies are doing the game proud.

O’Sullivan said: “I am part of a right Dad’s Army, it’s like the OAPs out there with John Higgins also winning titles at 40. But it’s great to be competing, we should be in the Seniors really.

“I am never normally surprised to win tournaments but to get this one a little, the first big one back after eight months.

“But I still think if I can produce some form it doesn’t matter how long I take out, you have that talent and game if you can produce it. It is great to match Stephen’s record here, let’s hope I can win No7.”

Amid the great play and the eulogies and records, there were also plenty of parallels between this Masters success and the 2013 World Championship win for O’Sullivan, and not just because Hawkins was sitting in the other chair for the final.

Both came after him taking a long break away from the sport, and both also saw good players fail to produce their best against O’Sullivan even in the spells when he was not on top form.

This last aspect continues to frustrate some onlookers. There is no doubt how difficult a challenge O’Sullivan represents, and how much trouble he can leave opponents in on a regular basis.

That of course loads extra pressure on when the chances do come along, and only Mark Williams got close last week. Selby brought the best out of the now six-time winner, but Bingham and Hawkins could have done better.

It was the same in 2013 at the Crucible, when Ali Carter, Bingham and Judd Trump could not put enough pressure on him.

If you had to name four players who can genuinely take on O’Sullivan believing 100 per cent they can beat him, you are probably looking at Neil Robertson, Judd Trump, Higgins and Selby – possibly Shaun Murphy too.

Partly through the luck of the draw and partly through O’Sullivan not playing so much, Robertson simply has not run into the Rocket often enough for the neutral’s taste.

At the Masters he ran into an inspired Trump, the equivalent of an opening batsman getting out to an unplayable delivery. There was very little he could have done differently.

In their only three big matches in the last five years, there was a 6-1 win for Robertson in the 2015 Masters, a 6-5 win for O’Sullivan at the 2013 Champion of Champions, who also prevailed in a superb 13-10 contest at the 2012 World Championship.

If there was a wish for 2016, it would be that these two get paired together a bit more.

Photograph courtesy of Monique Limbos