RONNIE O’SULLIVAN is ready to try to scale his greatest peak – a world title in his 40s.
The Rocket equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of six Masters successes with a 10-1 destruction of Barry Hawkins on Sunday, winning an unprecedented 10 frames in a row.
But five-time world champion O’Sullivan, 40, is still two titles shy of his now-retired rival’s prized mark of seven on the greatest stage at the Crucible.
No player has won a world title in their 40s since O’Sullivan’s former mentor Ray Reardon at 45 in 1978.
And O’Sullivan admits lifting the trophy in May would be his ‘Everest’ – and has also thrown down the gauntlet to the next generation to step up and end his era of domination.
Having now won titles in the past 13 months with a broken foot and a bad back, he said: “To win a world title at 40 over 17 days at the Crucible, the difficult bit is the consistency.
“As you get older, you can lose it. Look at even the Masters over eight days. John Higgins, who is 40 like me and is winning titles, had a brilliant match and then went off the boil and went out.
“Keeping that for 17 days is the biggest challenge. It is hard in Sheffield especially when you have won it before, because you know exactly what it involves.
“You ask yourself, ‘Am I ready to climb that mountain?’ You know what you are in for to win and psychologically that can be off-putting.
“But you have to try and win the world championship, if you are a professional snooker player that is the one. It’s like a marathon – you get in there, and you know the rest will be hurting too.
“Sheffield is going to be a different sort of animal, but I’ll try and peak for the worlds. There are only so many tournaments you’ve got in you. As you get towards 40 you’ve got to savour these moments.
“Good players aren’t playing their best against me, I don’t know why that is. Maybe they feel under extra pressure against someone who hasn’t been playing regularly.
“Maybe they show me too much respect – I have done that in the past against Hendry.
“Maybe me, and John Higgins over the past year, have laid down the gauntlet a bit to the others.
“We are waiting for someone young, or two or three, to come through and take it away from us, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.”
Meanwhile Hendry, 47, reckons that some of O’Sullivan’s rivals should be feeling annoyed this morning.
The world number 6 breezed back after an eight-month sabbatical to win a big title, much as he did at the Crucible in 2013.
And when O’Sullivan has had the occasional lull in form, opponents have not taken advantage of it.
Hendry said: “It’s not like he has been on a beach, he has been playing exhibitions.
“If I was one of the other top players I would be disappointed and hurting a bit that he could come back and do that.
“I am talking really about the likes of Neil Robertson, Judd Trump, Mark Selby, who probably thought they were favourites to win this. And Ronnie has come along and won it. They will be irritated.”