Reflecting on the decade: the year 2012

2012 was the year when the Rocket, came back from the darkness, shone bright in the sky of Sheffield and disappeared again. It was also the year when Stephen Hendry retired.

Ronnie started the year 2012 ranked n°16 and in very serious danger to have to qualify for the World Championship. He had started to work with Steve Peters just before the 2011 World Championship after a a couple of desastrous seasons, and he was in a slightly better place mentally, but his health wasn’t great. He was suffering from a serious bout of glandular fever and felt drained. Just before the 2011 UK Championship he had collapsed in his hotel room after a match, and had come to York in poor health. He had narrowly lost to Judd Trump in the second round. And 2012 didn’t start well either: he was beaten by Judd Trump again, in round two again, at the 2012 Masters.

The next event for Ronnie was the 2012 German Masters and it was basically a “must win” if he wanted to avoid to have to qualify for the Crucible. Damian Hirst had come with him to Berlin … in his private jet. Ronnie’s first opponent was Andrew Higginson, a very capable player, ranked 19th at the time. Andrew lead 4-0 … in a best of 9. Ronnie had scored only 7 points in the first three frames, then lost the fourth on the final pink. It was looking very grim for Ronnie. After the MSI though, Ronnie turned the match on its head… you can watch the last five frames here:

After that, Ronnie went on to win the tournament, beating Joe Perry, Matthew Stevens, Stephen Lee, and Stephen Maguire on hiw way to the title. It was his first ranking title since the 2009 Shanghai Masters, nearly two and a half years earler.

You can enjoy the pictures (Ronnie’s matches) I took then by following this link

Yet, Ronnie hadn’t done enough to be safe ranking wise. Despite being clearly exhausted, he pushed further in the 2012 Welsh Open, reaching the semi finals, where he lost to Mark Selby. That secured his Crucible spot, but at a huge prize: right after the semi final, his glandular fever got so bad that he had to be taken to hospital for treatment. He subsequently withdrew from the 2012 World Open and 2012 PTC Grand Final.

When Ronnie arrived at the Crucible, seeded 14, nobody was giving him much of a chance to lift the trophy, and he was to face Peter Ebdon in the first round… but against all odds, he beat Peter Ebdon comprehensively, then Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Matthew Stevens and Ali Carter to win the World Championship for the fourth time.

Ronnie had his young son watching him, and became very emotional towards the end. To date, he rates this title as his best moment in his snooker career.

All the pictures I took a the 2012 Championship (Ronnie’s matches) are here

After that win Ronnie announced that he was going to take a long break from snooker.

As it happened, he only played one other match that year, a match he lost to Simon Betford at the South West Snooker Academy. During that summer, Ronnie broke his foot, whilst running in the woods, and met his partner Laila Rouass. He also refused to sign the new players contract, that he thought was overly demanding on the players. Actually, he wasn’t entirely wrong, and other players at the time told me they were feeling the same but couldn’t afford not to play for financial reasons.  I won’t name names for obvious reasons, but their main issues where about their image rights, and, as self-employed persons, restrictions on events other than main tour they would be able to play in.

Eventually though, Ronnie was persuaded to sign the contract, and entered the PTC event 3, and the International Championship 2012 … from which he withdrew, feeling unable to make the trip. I remember a conversation with Jason Ferguson shortly after Ronnie’s withdrawal, and Jason expressed concerns about Ronnie’s mental health at the time.

Following this withdrawal, Ronnie announced that he was retiring from snooker for the rest of the season

World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan has abandoned plans to return to the snooker tour and will miss the rest of the season.

The 36-year-old has “personal issues which he needs to resolve”, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn announced today, and that means he will not return until next season at the earliest.

O’Sullivan announced after winning his fourth world title in May that he intended to take six months out from the sport, and although he returned to play in a low-profile Players Tour Championship event in September, he withdrew from last week’s International Championship citing illness.

In a statement, World Snooker announced: “World Snooker has been informed that Ronnie O’Sullivan does not intend to compete on the World Snooker Tour for the remainder of the 2012/13 season.”

Hearn said: “I have spoken to Ronnie and he has decided to withdraw from any events he has entered, and he will not be playing for the rest of this season. He has some personal issues which he needs to resolve and we wish him all the best for the future.” …

The personal issues were related to his “divorce” from his former partner, and the juridic battle over his rights to see his children.

He also had been filming a documentary about his “Life Story” that came out on ITV4 around the same time. You can watch it here:

That documentary hinted at permanent retirement. Part of it had been filmed at the SWSA durint the 2012 PTC event 3.

Stephen Hendry had started the 2011/12 season as ranked n°16, but had quicly dopped out of the elite bracket and after the 2012 Weslh Open was ranked 21th and had to qualify for events. This is a situation he had never found himself into since 1987/88. Needless to say he hated it.

Stephen came to the Crucible as a qualifier, having beaten Yu Delu in the last 48. He beat Stuart Bingham in the last 32, and made a 147 during that match, his 11th and last competitive one.

He then beat john Higgins very comprehensively in the last 16, (13-4)  before being outplayed in the QF by Stephen Maguire who won with a session to spare (13-2).

I will never forget what happened next. Stephen came to the media room for his post match, sat down, and calmly, quietly announced “I have played my last professional match”. Everyone in the room was stunned. Nobody had really seen it coming. Stephen then explained that he had been planning this the whole season. That he had given himself a bit of time to see if he could return to the elite, and having failed to do so, had decided to retire. He didn’t want to continue if he wasn’t able to win.

Here are some quotes by Hendry after the match

‘I’m delighted I made a maximum here, that’s why I was more animated than normal when making it. I was delighted to do it on my last appearance here.’

‘It was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. I thought about it last year but two or three months ago I just decided enough was enough.’

Reflecting on his favourite Crucible memories, Hendry said: ‘I’ve had so many it’s hard to pinpoint special ones.

‘My first win here, obviously the seventh world title, making maximums, I could write a book on the memories I’ve had here.’

He insisted it was not time to shed a tear.

‘No, not really. I’ve never been the most emotional person even when I win.

‘It’s sad that I won’t play here again. I love playing here, but no, it’s a relief as much as anything.’

The next day, the snooker world and the fans payed tribute to the seven times World Champion in the Crucible. He got a standing ovation.