Ronnie O’Sullivan: There will never be another three who can play like me, Higgins and Williams
‘We come from an era where you became a proper snooker player,’ said the Rocket ahead of the weekend’s World Championship
Ronnie O’Sullivan may no longer consider himself at the very peak of his snooker powers but says recent successes mean no one should question his ability to keep winning until he turns 50.
O’Sullivan defeated Kyren Wilson in the final last August to win his sixth World Championship and heads to the Crucible Theatre this month to not only defend his crown but also to match Stephen Hendry’s modern-era record of seven world titles.
That 2020 World Championship triumph is O’Sullivan’s only ranking-event victory in the past two seasons but reaching five finals this campaign doesn’t suggest any sort of impending snooker mortality.
As he approaches 30 years since first turning professional, the 45-year-old – along with fellow ‘Class of 92’ members Mark Williams and John Higgins – has maintained a remarkable level of play well into his 40s.
In fact, at least one of the trio has appeared in all but two of the past 10 World Championship finals – and in each of the last four – with O’Sullivan insisting that record proves they can all keep competing past their 50th birthday.
“There will never again be three players who can play the game like me, John and Mark do, playing into their late 40s, early 50s and still winning tournaments,” said O’Sullivan, who is a regular contributor to Eurosport on all their snooker coverage.
“We come from an era where you became a proper snooker player. That experience and level of game at amateur level has allowed us to play way beyond what others have. Mid 40s, still winning tournaments and you shouldn’t have to ask the question of if we’re good enough any more until we hit 50.
“Williams won the world title two years ago, I did it last year, Higgins has made lot of world finals recently and then won a big tournament [the Players Championship] this year.
“Just off the back of that, you’ve got to give yourself another five years. Even if you have a down season, you’re not likely to be losing that sort of form within one or two years.”
O’Sullivan’s 2021 World Championship campaign begins on Saturday morning, with the final concluding on 3 May – a 17-day marathon that The Rocket admits doesn’t suit his personality.
Despite his remarkable success at the Crucible, he claims he has never enjoyed the tournament – struggling with boredom and a lack of focus at the event.
And that may explain why matching Hendry’s record of seven world titles isn’t as burning a desire as you might think for such a fierce competitor.
“I don’t think I need to win anything else to cement my legacy,” he said. “I never thought I’d win one world title, so I’m certainly not going to complain if I don’t get to seven. I’m over the moon with what I’ve achieved.
“I just want to go there and enjoy my snooker and I need to play well to enjoy it.
“I’ve accepted that about myself – I only want to play snooker and really get excited about it if I’m in my slot, in my groove, timing the ball well and it’s all coming easily to me.
“If I’m not doing that, I’m not prepared to go through the pain barrier as much anymore. I’ve made a pact with myself that if things aren’t quite going right, then a defeat isn’t the end of the world.”
He is right of course about the level of the amateur game and there are any number of reasons that contributed to its decline, some linked to the way the sport has been managed and promoted over the years, some related to way our societies have evolved and to what today’s young people desire to achieve or indeed what their parents want them to achieve. But there is also the fact that the brutal current structure offers no path for development for young professionals.
Steve Feeney posted this on FB after learning that Kaçper Filipiak is giving up on snooker:
Just sharing my thoughts seeing the 25 Year old 2019 European Champion quit the game having fallen off Tour following his World Championship 2 Round defeat….
People will debate the fors and againsts, however I see the Flat Draw as being brutal for younger players who are working hard to craft a successful profession is this sport.
No prize money at the bottom end of Events / and in many cases very small prize money at lower end of many Events is undoubtedly compounding pressure on the younger players unless they have good financial sponsors.
Most new / young players to the Tour nowadays need more time to develop in the Ranks, especially with the Flat Draw structure where statistically they will meet a Top 16 Player 1:4 events – some players Seasons have been plagued with such tough Draws.
So their game has to be of at least Top 32 Standard ‘consistently’ almost immediately to survive. By comparison the Apprenticeship of Professional Snooker is no longer like it was in the Tiered Structure from which so many of our Top Players and top 32 players developed their ‘skills’ and ‘ring craft’.
Or is the current ‘Development Pathway’ i.e. Q-School / Challenge / QTour to becoming a Pro meant to be a Professional Apprenticeship – there is definitely a gap ….
I can only agree. It’s basically what I have been writing here countless times over the last years.