The most interesting bit for the snooker fans yesterday was provided by the BBC: their “Crucible Classic” choice on the day was the 2003 semi-final between Ken Doherty and Paul Hunter. Paul started the last session of the match 15-9 up and still lost, by 17-16.
Ken is a great, great player, he can score heavily, but his two main strengths are a very shrewd all-round game combined with a terrific temperament. He never gives up, and rarely cracks under pressure. In the last session of this particular match, both are on show.
Paul was only 24 at the time, it was his first semi-final at the Crucible. Clive Everton, in the commentary box, reflected that pressure and anxiety got at him in that last session. It’s not really surprising, but still, with such a big lead, he should have won that match.
Whenever a match involving Paul Hunter is shown on television, social media fill with “He would surely have been World Champion, had he lived”. Well, at the risk of being (verbally) crucified, beheaded, and quartered … I’m not so sure.
“Why?” will you ask me. “Paul had a fantastic temperament, look, he won the Masters three times, from far behind, he beat O’Sullivan in one of them”. Indeed, he did.
On the other hand, his record in multi-session matches in ranking events wasn’t great. Not counting his last season, when he was obviously very ill, Paul played at the Crucible seven times, and only won five matches. His record in the UK Championship – that was played as best of 17 from round one in those days, with the final being best of 19 – he reached the SF only once, lost in the QF twice, and otherwise never got past the last 16 in ten appearances.
The way he played in that last session against Ken, pretty much reminded me of Jimmy White. Both very attractive players with flair, entertaining to watch but struggling to get over the line when in front. Jimmy was expected to win the World Championship “surely”. He didn’t. Now I’m not saying that Paul Hunter wouldn’t have, I’m saying that I’m not as certain as most seem to be that he would have done it, had he lived. And now, sadly, we will never find out.
Other than that, Phil Haig, who is really very prolific recently, has gone and interviewed Barry Hearn about Ronnie and Judd Trump
Barry Hearn explains his problem with ‘genius’ Ronnie O’Sullivan and warns him: ‘Judd Trump is the new king’
Barry Hearn and Ronnie O’Sullivan have had a complicated relationship over the years which the WST chairman puts down to one reason, the Rocket’s genius.
The snooker supremo has known O’Sullivan for three decades, twice served as his manager and is in charge of the sport that has made the 44-year-old a millionaire and household name.
However, they have fallen out plenty of times, quite seriously last year with O’Sullivan threatening a breakaway snooker tour and Hearn responding in fairly heavy-handed manner.
The Rocket is never shy of criticising snooker’s hierarchy, with Hearn describing Ronnie’s regular moans as ‘deadly dull’ during this season’s English Open.
Hearn does have sympathy for O’Sullivan though, to an extent, as he sees the work of a genius on and off the table.
The five-time world champion conjures up brilliance on the baize, but his unique talent comes with a unique mind and Hearn has learned to expect the unexpected from the sport’s biggest star.
‘This might sound strange,’ Hearn told Metro.co.uk. ‘Ronnie O’Sullivan is a lovely, lovely person, he’s also a genius, and therein lies the problem.
‘A genius is not normal, they don’t say normal things and they don’t act normally, that’s one of the reasons they are a genius and we have to allow for that. ‘
Ronnie comes out with some outrageous things and I allow for it, in the same way that I allowed for Alex Higgins because he was a genius, Jimmy White, genius, Phil Taylor, I don’t expect normality from geniuses.
‘The sad thing, for me, is sometimes the errant ideology of a genius is counterproductive to their own personal welfare.
‘For Ronnie O’Sullivan, I love him, I’ve known him since he was 12-years-old, I’ve been his manager twice, we disagree of lots of things fundamentally because he’s got too much time on his hands and he likes a column inch so he comes up with outlandish statements, most of which are rubbish.’
After a quiet season so far for O’Sullivan, with his only trophy coming at the Shanghai Masters, the world number six is eyeing-up a much busier couple of years ahead as he tries to rediscover his best form.
The Rocket has not played in every event available to him for years and Hearn believes it would be a wise move for him to be more active while he still can.
‘The over-riding factor is Ronnie O’Sullivan was born to play snooker and I don’t want him sitting in his armchair when he’s 60 with any regrets,’ Hearn continued.
‘I’d rather see Ronnie O’Sullivan turn up and play with a smile on his face than almost anything in snooker.
‘The fact he didn’t play the Masters this year or enough events to get into the Coral Championship, that’s called a mistake, a mistake made by a genius.
‘Hopefully he says: “I’m just going to enjoy my life, I really love playing snooker and I’m going to play a bit more, whenever I want.” I want him to be happy, funnily enough, and I’m certain he’s happiest playing snooker.
‘Sometimes, like this crisis, whether it’s sport, a relationship, whatever, complacency is a killer and the day you lose something, it’s quite good because you realise how much you miss it.
‘We’re all missing sport and Ronnie sounds like he’s missing snooker and that’s bloody good news.
‘He might appreciate, both of us might, a bit more when we get back to normality. Sometimes we take it for granted and that’s not the right the way out of any relationship.’
O’Sullivan is undoubtedly still snooker’s biggest star and most popular character, but he is no longer the dominant force with a cue in his hand.
World champion and world number one Judd Trump currently holds that mantle, but Hearn believes O’Sullivan will love the challenge of trying to reach the top of the mountain once again.
‘Trump is the new king on the block, I think he’s an outstanding player and he will develop into one of the all-time greats,’ said the WST chairman.
‘The competition itself, to compete, wake up in the morning with a purpose is actually more important.
‘I think Trump would be a big price favourite to beat Ronnie currently. I’m not looking for Ronnie to make improvement, he’s in his mid-40s, he’s done remarkably well to be as good as he is.
‘But like the Steve Davis’ and the Stephen Hendrys, he’s still good enough to beat nearly all of them all the time. Go and enjoy yourself son, fill your boots, make a few quid, but more importantly, get that little adrenaline rush because don’t kid me, you love it. You love it!
‘And you don’t like to admit you love it. Of course you get disappointed when you lose and that’s because you love winning. Take a leaf out of Bazza’s book. Don’t waste an hour because you can’t get that hour back.’
Trump is unquestionably the best player on the planet right now, but he has certainly not reached the levels of popularity that Ronnie has enjoyed for years.
The world champ is well on his way to becoming a legend of the game, but can he become a star in the mould of the Rocket? Hearn believes so.
‘I do,’ said Barry. ‘I think Trump is an outstanding player. It’s going to be interesting watching his game and personality develop, which I think they both will.
‘I think Judd Trump is going to be one of the all time greats. I’ve got a lot of time for him.
‘He’s got a hunger which the best players have got. In any sport, as much as we say, “what would we do without Tiger Woods?” Then Brooks Koepka or Jordan Spieth comes along. Not the same, different, but still great and technical standards are moving ahead.
‘I’ve been watching the BBC archive and, not being cruel but, those players don’t look very good compared to what we see today. The way they stroke the ball, move on the shot, they miss miles more than today. Sport improves, progresses.
‘You can enjoy brilliance at any time, I can watch Ronnie O’Sullivan play all day. Left handed, right handed, cue in his teeth I think he can pot them sometimes. But lets’ enjoy the moment, make the memories, they won’t be there forever, that’s why we should enjoy it and that’s why we shouldn’t take it for granted today.
‘Would we miss Ronnie O’Sullivan? Bloody right. Would the game survive? Bloody right. Because that’s the nature of sport. People come through. Great fighters that looked unbeatable become normal and human after a while.’
I’m sure that Barry Hearn loves his problem dearly 😉
And I agree with him, watching those matches from the past, the standard wasn’t that great, although, conditions being different, it’s probably hard to compare matches from different eras in a fair way.
On the other hand, I’m not sure that Judd Trump will ever have the charisma that players like Ronnie and Jimmy White have. Stephen Hendry never had it really, and Steve Davis only got it when he no longer was a winner.
Also, although he looks unbeatable – or about – at the moment, only time will tell if Judd Trump can sustain that over a decade or more. Mark Selby looked almost unbeatable for four seasons – he was a runaway number one and three times a World Champion in those four seasons – then, suddenly, he started to struggle and his confidence deserted him. I’m not saying that the same will happen to Judd Trump, all I’m saying is – as Ronnie once put it on ES – that we should have this conversation in ten years time.