The World Championship is over, and, from what transpired on social media, the new professional season will start mid-July. For once the players will have a decent summer break, which, I think, they all need because the last year has been very difficult for everyone.
For the first time in twenty-nine seasons as a pro, Ronnie has not won anything. He has reached five finals though, which is more that most pros do in their entire career. So, what’s next?
Here I have gathered a few articles that may help us to get an idea about what may be ahead.
During the championship, just before the John Higgins v Mark Williams last 16 match, Ronnie had explained how those two had inspired him:
World Snooker Championship 2021: ‘They’ve inspired me to keep playing’ – Ronnie O’Sullivan exclusive
John Higgins and Mark Williams meet for the fifth time at the World Championship in the last 16, an astonishing 22 years after they first collided at the Crucible in the 1999 semi-finals. The duo turned professional alongside world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan as part of the sport’s fabled Class of ’92. O’Sullivan explains why their ongoing success has inspired him to scrap any plans for retirement.
Snooker’s enduring Class of ‘92 graduated with honours at the Crucible Theatre over two decades ago, but the timeless triumvirate continue to display a true passion for life-long learning.
For Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams, three masters in green baize geometry, every day is a school day.
“If they (Higgins and Williams) see me doing well, they know I’m nothing special,” said O’Sullivan. “We’re all just human beings. They’re both fantastic snooker players, but none of us have got some superpower going on.
We’ve grew up together, we respect each other’s games, we know each other capabilities. I just think we feed off each other and get inspired by each other.
With 13 world titles between them over the past 29 years, and two over the past three years in Sheffield, the holy trinity of cue sports, an Englishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman, continue to thrive and survive at the elite echelons of the sport in quite inimitable style in their 40s. Still enjoying the golden view from the ridge when lesser cueists are over the hill.
They may share the same years as the 45th Crucible tournament they are chasing, but are hardly flagging with all three safely ensconced inside the world’s top 12, safer than a Higgins shot to nothing.
World number two O’Sullivan’s standing in the rankings is only bettered by Judd Trump, who is eyeing a staggering sixth triumph in the season of social distancing, but others covet the game’s crowning glory.
Williams and Higgins will collide at the Crucible over the best-of-25 frames on Friday (LIVE on Eurosport at 2:30pm) and Saturday in the last 16 for the fifth time since they turned professional in 1992.
All three had lifted their first world titles between 1998 and 2001, but their duels form the rich fabric of green baize folklore as much as the Bayeux Tapestry tells you of Norman conquest minus Mark Davis from Hastings.
Williams enjoyed victories over Higgins in the 1999 (17-10) and 2000 (17-15) semi-finals and the 2018 (18-16) final respectively with Higgins completing a memorable 17-14 win in the 2011 semi-finals on his passage to a fourth world title. Fittingly, they are level on 11 wins each in career ranking duels.
O’Sullivan made off with his first world title courtesy of an 18-14 victory over Higgins in the 2001 final, but has numerous memories of facing both men on the grandest stage, the most recent of which saw him complete a 13-10 success against Williams in the quarter-finals on his sojourn to a sixth world title last August.
“My biggest two rivals have been Higgins and Williams,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport. “We’re very different. Me and Williams have got more of a shot-making style.
“We make the game up as we go along while Higgins is more in the style of Steve Davis. Very robotic, tough to play against and can tie you up in knots.
“It’s weird because John plays well against me, I play well against Williams, but he plays well against John.
“It is almost like our styles contrast. If I could use Mark Williams’ style against John Higgins, I’d probably get a lot more success against him.
If Mark Williams could use John Higgins’ style against me it would be the same… it’s really funny how the dynamics work out, but all three of us have kept each other going in many ways. Whenever one has been down, they probably get inspired by the other one.
O’Sullivan revealed witnessing Williams end a 15-year wait to lift his third world title in 2018 with his epic win over Higgins, who had restored parity at 15-15 from 14-7 behind, inspired him to an 18-8 win over Kyren Wilson in last year’s final.
“I know there have been times where I’ve sat there and thought: ‘They’re doing alright against the odds’,” confessed O’Sullivan.
“When Williams won the world title in 2018, I sat back and thought: ‘He can do it so surely I can do it’. I think he’s a few months older than me so I think we all give each a bit of belief. I’m sure John and Mark feel the same way.”
Williams celebrated his 46th birthday by claiming the 23rd ranking event of his career at the inaugural WST Pro Series event last month before reaching the final of the Championship League a week later to leave himself mentally attuned for the Crucible.
A 10-4 win over qualifier Sam Craigie in the first round saw him secure another joust with Higgins, who won six straight frames from 7-4 behind in a 10-7 win over Tian Pengfei.
“Williams has been fantastic to watch in the past few tournaments. I thought: ‘you are dusting these young guys up’,” commented O’Sullivan.
“You are trashing them. The way Williams is playing at the moment, he’s a match for anyone because he’s enjoying it and a snooker player enjoying his snooker is a dangerous opponent.
He’s got great temperament, his potting ability is amazing and his break-building has improved a lot over the past two or three years. I’d say he is a much better all-round player than when he first came on the scene.
“We all develop as pros. You start a bit rough round the edges and you develop. Your style improves because you have to adapt and reinvent yourself.
“Higgins has done that recently by changing something. You are always doing that and you hope those changes can make you a better player.
“That is what Mark has done. He can play any game. If you want to play safe: ‘yeah, if you want to score points, yeah, I’m cool with it..‘
“You know when you to pick and choose your battles and just play in a philosophical way. I’m not sure John could do what Mark is doing because they are different styles of players.
“Mark is playing with a tremendous amount of freedom, but I’m not sure that would work for John because he’s a different type of player. But if John gets in the groove and is enjoying his snooker, you don’t want to play him.”
All being well, all three will celebrate 30 years at the summit next year with O’Sullivan conveying the message that diehards should enjoy them while they can.Apart from Trump, O’Sullivan feels the field has not been sharp enough to bury the Class of ’92, who share the same moniker as Manchester United’s glorious era of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, with almost 2,500 centuries assembled on the baize .He is still shocked Higgins lost 10-8 to Yan Bingtao in the Masters final in January. O’Sullivan ran in two centuries and a 97 in a 6-3 defeat to Higgins in the last eight with the Players champion totting up three centuries of his own.
“It’s amazing to still be competing,” said O’Sullivan. “I just think we played in an era in the 1980s when snooker was so popular.
“You had no mobile phones back then so you had to focus and concentrate. You were surrounded by really fantastic players.
“I just don’t think you will see that level of player coming through again.
You might see a good crop of players, and in-depth they’re quite good today, but I doubt you will see a John Higgins or Mark Williams type of player again.
“Alright, we’ve got Judd Trump, but he’s the only one, but other than that you look down and there is nobody showing that type of snooker ability or snooker brain.
“There’s just no one. Yeah, there are good players, but if Higgins or Williams play 80 percent of their game, there is still only Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and possibly Mark Selby who can beat them.
“Anybody else won’t get near them. I know Bingtao beat Higgins in the Masters final, but if Higgins had played consistently steady throughout that final I have no doubt he’d have won that 10-6 or 10-5 because he is just a superior player.”
It was perhaps Mark Twain, definitely not Mark ‘The Royal’ King, who was misquoted as suggesting excellence in billiards being the sign of a misspent youth. For the enduring Class of ’92, and those watching under face masks at the Crucible, it has been time well misspent.
Snooker’s enduring Class of ’92
Ronnie O’Sullivan (Eng) John Higgins (Sco) Mark Williams (Wal) Born: 5 December 1975 Born: 18 May 1975 Born: 21 March 1975 World titles (6): 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020 World titles (4): 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011 World titles (3): 2000, 2003, 2018 UK (7): 1993, 1997, 2001, 2007, 2014, 2017, 2018 UK (3): 1998, 2000, 2010 UK (2): 1999, 2002 Masters (7): 1995, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017 Masters (2): 1999, 2006 Masters (2): 1998, 2004
Speaking to Phil Haigh ahead of the secound round he explained that he does want to play but on his own terms.
Ronnie O’Sullivan: The only reason I don’t like snooker
Ronnie O’Sullivan says he has just one complaint with snooker, although it is a substantial one, as it is the lifestyle that goes with being a professional player.
The Rocket is at the World Snooker Championship this year trying to defend his title and lift the famous trophy for a record-equalling seventh time.
While the 45-year-old would enjoy that experience and still gets a kick out of playing the game, he remains at odds with much that being a professional entails.
The sport may have provided him with nearly £12m in prize money over his career, but O’Sullivan looks to other more glamorous endeavours and cannot help but feel a pang of jealousy.
‘Someone said to me, what is it with you and snooker?’ O’Sullivan told Metro.co.uk. ‘The only reason I don’t like snooker is because of the lifestyle.
‘If I was a golfer, I’d love golf because the lifestyle is great. Beautiful courses, nice hotel, offered great food. It’s like Formula One, tennis…the sport becomes the least important part of the job.
‘I could quite happily not play snooker forever, I might miss it a bit but I’ve got a lot of things I can fill my time with. With snooker I just don’t enjoy the lifestyle of a snooker player.
‘Some of the places we play in now are a lot different from what we used to play in. It used to be more like golf in great venues every tournament, you used to enjoy going to the venue and the hospitality side of it.
‘Now you’re lucky to get a cup of tea or a sandwich from Marks’ so I don’t enjoy that lifestyle. I like good food, being in a nice place, that’s just me.
‘It’s not snooker I don’t like…it’s qualifiers in Barnsley and places like that. I’d much rather go do a qualifier at Augusta or Wimbledon, but I suppose that’s just the sport we’re in.
‘It’s a bit like darts, it’s not a high-end sport. You have to try and make it as comfortable and enjoyable as I can, good hotels, travel well. That’s why you don’t see me around the venue much or hang around with the snooker guys, they’re happy to have a burger and chips from the cafe, I’m not. I want to create a very good environment everywhere I go or I can’t do it.’
O’Sullivan has been especially down on the surroundings he has encountered this season as they have been almost exclusively limited to Milton Keynes during the pandemic.
The sport owes a debt to the Marshall Arena for brilliantly hosting the majority of tournaments over the last year, but the Rocket did not love the constant trips to Milton Keynes, despite choosing to play in nearly all of them.
Asked whether he would keep up his rigorous schedule next season if some kind of normality returns, O’Sullivan was clear.
‘No, I’d focus more on the China events, the bigger more prestigious events at this stage of my career,’ he said. ‘The opportunities suit me better out there really.
‘Certain places I’ve missed. Belfast is great, York is fantastic, China there’s some great places.
‘I could play virtually every tournament this year because the traveling was doable, it wasn’t an issue. If it goes back to what it was then obviously I’d have to make a call and just pick and choose the ones I do here but focus on China.
‘If they do all the China events in one go then I can do all the China events and do the majority in the UK as well. But if it goes back to what it was, going round the world four times in a month, I couldn’t do it at my age.
‘I have to put my interests first, run my own operation and focus on what I have to do. Try and ignore what all the other players seem to do which is getting sucked up on the hamster wheel of going from event to event because they feel like they have to. I’d rather retain some control and me be the one deciding what I want to do.’
O’Sullivan has found the ‘hamster wheel’ that he has embarked on this season give him an even more care-free attitude to his game than usual, consistently insisting that he is not fussed whether he wins or loses.
‘The way it is at the moment there’s literally a snooker game every day so I think it’s less important how you do, how you play, you just think, “I’ll just play.”’ O’Sullivan said.
‘Even if it goes back to normal, who cares? You win, great, if you don’t, brilliant, I’ve got another game in four days. You don’t really care if you win or lose, so it’s got its benefits I suppose.
‘We’ll have to wait and see how it goes, for every benefit there’s a drawback and every drawback there’s a benefit.’
I have put some things in bold there. The first one is what Ronnie says about the venues. For nearly twenty years Ronnie never needed to qualify. During the “tobacco” years the “main” venues had great hospitality. Most players who were in the top 16 during those years have a certain level of nostalgia about that aspect of the sport. Those who weren’t in the elite though very rarely enjoyed those things. There was nothing glamorous about Norbeck Castle, nor about Pontins nor about playing in cublicles in front a a couple of people at best. Most of them never got on television. They were little known, almost invisible, especially outside the top 32.
And after Ronnie’s defeat in the last 16, Ken Doherty and Alan McManus discussed his chances to win further World tittles in coming years:
Will Ronnie O’Sullivan win the World Snooker Championship again? Ken Doherty and Alan McManus decide
Ronnie O’Sullivan missed his chance to equal Stephen Hendry’s record of seven World Snooker Championship titles this year, but Alan McManus can see him doing so in future, while Ken Doherty fully expects him to.
The Rocket suffered a shock 13-12 defeat to Anthony McGill in the last 16, bringing about an early end to his title defence in Sheffield.
His victory at the Crucible last summer took his World Championship tally to six, level with Steve Davis but still one behind Hendry’s incredible effort of seven.
At 45-years-old, time is not on the Rocket’s side as he looks to match, or even better, Hendry’s achievement but no one is writing him off just yet.
1997 world champion Doherty says he never thought this would be Ronnie’s year, but is sure that he will have another Crucible triumph in the future.
‘I didn’t really fancy Ronnie O’Sullivan coming into this one,’ Doherty told Metro.co.uk. ‘He had some heavy defeats in finals this season and the last one to Neil Robertson was very convincing, it will have knocked his confidence.
‘Anyone can see their confidence knocked, it happens to everyone and it was a brilliant performance from Anthony McGill.
‘I do fancy him to win a seventh title, though. He’s got two or three years where he’ll have a really good chance and I think he’ll do it.
‘I think he deserves it, for what he’s given snooker over the years, no one would begrudge him winning a seventh world title, except Stephen Hendry, who definitely would.’
McManus is not quite as convinced that O’Sullivan will claim another world title, but he certainly thinks he has every chance to do so in the next five years.
‘He can, I would never write off one of those guys, nah. Just too many times they come back and do it again,’ said McManus.
‘I did say earlier in the week before he played Anthony, that Anthony’s a contender to win this. He’s a guy that’s learning all the time and I did think that was…not a banana skin…but Ronnie was never winning that 13-6. To me, it was a close game written all over it and he’s come a cropper.
‘I think Ronnie plays his best stuff later in this tournament, early on he can be a little bit vulnerable maybe. I think of recent years losing to Stuart Bingham, Ali [Carter], [James] Cahill, incredible players but he needs to find his way to get deep into the draw. Then, because of the charisma and magnetism and everything that he’s got, once you get down to one table, that’s when all the magic can happen. Like it did last season against Mark Selby, even though there was no one in, 16-14 behind, it can happen because that’s what he is able to do.
‘I don’t think he can stay on the horse for as long as other guys now, because of the way he plays, he likes to play that creative way, it’s a shorter span, and that’s the way he likes to play.
‘He’s not as drilled as some of the other guys, not as comfortable as some of the other guys to battle it out. But of course he can, he’s fit as a flea, absolutely got five more years at it.’
O’Sullivan regularly speaks of his passions outside of snooker, including his love of running and various business interests such as a pop-up shop in Sheffield’s Meadowhall.
McManus feels this outlook has helped him, keeps him content in the sport and boosts his chances of more success.
‘I had a chat with him a week ago in the practice room and he seems like he’s in a really good place in his life,’ said the former Masters champion. ‘I’ve often wondered about that, if he enjoys it and good on him.
‘What he’s doing with different things, his shop, picking and choosing events, it’s the right path for him. It suits him, he’s earned that right to jump off the treadmill and do what he wants.
‘He’ll be fine, he’ll still win tournaments, there’s no question. Probably next time he gets to a final it’ll be 9-1, because that’s what he does.’
The Rocket himself fancies his chances, believing he has got five more years with a reasonable chance of success in Sheffield.
‘I have probably got another five years I suppose to go at the record,’ he said. ‘The way I look after myself, the way I play . . . I suppose I could get it right maybe one more time. It’s probably the only record I haven’t got, so I won’t be too hard on myself.
‘Can I still win here? Yeah, and I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t think so. I just need to pitch up and play. A bit like Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, they are probably not the best player now, probably don’t have the former desire. But they are still the one that everybody wants to see.’
So there you have it … hopefully next season will be a good one.