There isn’t much going on during the Christmas and New Year holiday, but I stumbled upon this by Neil Foulds:
Neal Foulds snooker column: Eurosport and ITV pundit reflects on Ronnie O’Sullivan’s World Grand Prix victory
By Neal Foulds – WED December 22, 2021
Neal Foulds is back with his latest column which pays tribute to Ronnie O’Sullivan following his brilliant victory over Neil Robertson in the final of the World Grand Prix on Sunday.
What an incredible night. Just when many of us were beginning to doubt him, Ronnie O’Sullivan is a champion again, having beaten Neil Robertson with a quite stunning display in the final of the World Grand Prix on Sunday.
I’m O’Sullivan’s biggest fan. I think he’s the greatest player the game of snooker has ever seen but, I have to admit, I didn’t fancy him on this occasion. Not given how he had struggled with his form all week in Coventry, and not against a player as good as Robertson, one who had just knocked out the world champion in the semi-finals.
But that’s Ronnie O’Sullivan for you. Having toiled early and battled just to stay in the match, the sleeping giant awoke just as you thought he might have cried enough, playing beautifully to win five out six frames in rapid time to complete a remarkable turnaround – not just in terms of this week, either – and win his first title since the 2020 World Championship.
At 7-5 down, I saw him leave his cue with someone backstage as the players went for the mid-session interval. It was obvious he wasn’t going to thrash it out on the practice table, and I wondered whether he thought his chance had gone.
And then, from nowhere, he returned from the break a completely different player, reeling off frame after frame in one visit in a manner very few others could. At 46 years of age and having lost in five finals since that last Crucible success, O’Sullivan springing into life and producing such a breathless session of snooker was really quite unbelievable – even by his own standards.
O’Sullivan defies the doubters once again
Maybe Judd Trump could have produced a similar level of snooker to win from that position, but given that Stuart Bingham is the only other top 16 player O’Sullivan has beaten all year, and also the fact that he has openly admitted he might not be the force he once was, I think this has to rate as one of his biggest achievements.
He knuckled down, too. He could have easily lost the match in the first session when playing poorly but, somehow, finished all square at 4-4. Looking back, the eighth frame, which he managed to win having needed two snookers, might have won him the match and they were two terrific snookers he laid.
The second one, in particular, was a brilliant shot and left Robertson in a terrible position. Even before he played his attempted escape, you felt O’Sullivan was favourite to win the frame with a free ball almost certain if the former missed. Like always, O’Sullivan cleared up but, even then, I fancied Robertson to press on in the evening session.
O’Sullivan though had other ideas and it was nice to see. We’re all snooker fans and we want to see new blood coming through and new winners emerge, and we’ve had that this season. But O’Sullivan is a great champion – the greatest of them all – and watching him win again was a special moment on a special night, in front of a really good crowd. He’s still got it and he reminded us of that in Coventry.
In my last column, I talked about a changing of the guard and I know John Higgins has referred to it a lot recently as well. It’s been fantastic to see guys like Zhao Xintong and Luca Brecel winning events this season, but don’t forget that of all the five events ITV have covered in 2021, every one of the finals have been contested by one member of the famous class of ’92. They aren’t finished yet, not by a long chalk.
Snooker in good health ahead of 2022
That being said, it’s been pleasing to see so much young talent finally break through and to have two of the three Triple Crown titles currently held by Chinese players is very impressive, given the players from the Far East have been so badly affected by the pandemic.
We have, of course, lost all of the Chinese events from the calendar this season, but there is talk that the Shanghai Masters will be held in China as early as August and that would be a good step back in the right direction. I do hope we get back there for that event.
If we do, I think we’ll see the Chinese players really thrive and that has to be good for the game. When I was playing, Steve Davis was incredibly dominant before Stephen Hendry took over the mantle in even more ruthless fashion. They won everything but, the mix of winners we’ve seen so far in this campaign showcases the healthy state of the game and long may that continue.
2021 has been a good year, though clearly with its challenges, but the snooker continues to carry the sport with some incredibly popular older players locking horns with an exciting new generation.
The game is in good health, as I hope you all are as you read my final column of the year. The ongoing pandemic seems to hang over all sport like a black cloud at the moment, but fingers crossed for better news in the new year as we look forward to the Masters in January. It’s hard not to feel hopeful when we head to that event with Ronnie’s name back up in lights, where it belongs.