The day before the start of the World Championship is traditionally a “press day” attended by the top 16 seeds. This year was no different: whilst the fitters and BBC crew were making sure the arena is ready the top 16 players and the “Crucible” referees met the press.
This World Championship also marks the 25th anniversary of Ronnie’s most famous 147 and, of course, it prompted a discussion in the press room as reported by Hector Nunns:
25th Anniversary Of THAT Crucible 147 By Ronnie O’Sullivan
In an amusing exchange at the official launch on Friday of the Betfred World Championship Ronnie O’Sullivan was asked if anyone could ever make a quicker 147 than the perfect maximum he made at the Crucible in a record five minutes and 20 seconds – some years later rounded down even lower by another 12 seconds.
After initially shouting out in jest “Me!”, the Rocket admitted that he thought it was unlikely, that such a feat would not be something he would even attempt these days, and that the magical break in 1997 was a “moment” that he was capable of in his youth at a time when by his own admission “I could never have won the world title”.
With the top 16 players gathered at the top table the banter started, with three-time champion Mark Williams – sitting between Zhao Xintong and Jack Lisowski, two of the fastest guns on tour – suggesting that the Chinese player was a likely candidate to beat the five minutes and eight seconds mark.
That prompted four-time champion John Higgins to weigh in with “What about me?”, to which Williams replied “You’d need about 500 minutes.”
But the whole episode served as a reminder of just what an incredible feat O’Sullivan pulled off that day 25 years ago at the Crucible. Although making 147s is far less rare these days with the overall standard on the tour considerably higher, that one still stands alone for the sheer speed and instinct displayed while making it with apparently a bare minimum of effort.
Snooker perfection demands a player pots a black with each of all 15 reds and then all the colours to reach the famous number. At the time of writing there have been 175 made in history, with the first made by Steve Davis against John Spencer in 1982, which earned him a Lada car from the event sponsors.
The first one ever made at the Crucible came from Canada’s Cliff Thorburn against Terry Griffiths at the World Championship the following year. And the most recent came from Scotland’s Graeme Dott in qualifying for the 2022 World Championship, though it wasn’t enough to see him through to the final stages.
But the most famous one of all came a quarter of a century ago, from a cocky 21-year-old who while already a superstar with several titles including the UK Championship and the Masters tucked away and on his CV, was yet to win a world title.
With the score at 8-5 to O’Sullivan, Mick Price left a safety shot short and from that moment the maximum always looked on, helped by a good split of the reds from the black about halfway through. But it was the sheer speed and fluency that made it such an iconic moment.
Reflecting on the moment, O’Sullivan – who with pandemonium in the arena threw his chalk into the crowd, said: “After the second or third red I thought ‘This could be a 147’. You can smell it when it’s on, even though one dodgy positional shot and it’s over. When I went into the pack they split beautifully, though there was just one red on into the middle.
“When you hear the crowd react because they know it’s on, then the pressure increases. It’s mad when I look back on it. It was a great break, but it also tells me why up to that point I hadn’t quite won the world title because it was just so fast, so instinctive that you can’t keep doing that sort of stuff.
“I had to learn and develop as a player but if you put it on a showreel yeah, of course it would look good on there. Of all the things I have achieved in my career, that is a highlight.
“Big Len Ganley, who was in charge, was one of our top referees. And I think that is how I got my nickname of ‘The Rocket’ from that break. I also remember getting beat in the next match to Darren Morgan. I thought ‘How do you go from making that 147 to losing in the next round?’ Everyone thought I was going to win the world title, but Darren put me in my place.”
Opponent Price, 55, and now a maths teacher, said: ““I made a decent break and he played safe, and with my next safety shot I cut it a bit thin. Five minutes and eight seconds later, and I’m in the Guinness Book of Records.”
The break came with a very substantial financial bonus, with O’Sullivan, who has made the most 147s (15), netting £147,000 for the maximum plus another £18,000 for the high-break prize, yielding a total of £165,000.
And Neil Robertson, joining in the general debate on Friday, maintained that he still could not believe the carefree abandon with which the Rocket approached the break given the huge amount of money at stake. Although O’Sullivan appreciates a pound note as much as anyone, you would never have guessed it watching this 308 seconds that saw him pocket £536 with each second.
Mark Selby admits he considered not defending his World title because of his ongoing battle with mental health issues – and said winning in Sheffield would be his greatest achievement.
In January, the Leicester player opened up publicly about his struggles with mental health saying he “needs help”.
However, he decided to compete after seeing “a little bit of improvement”.
Selby comes into the 17-day tournament without playing a competitive match since 2 March, when he was beaten in the last 64 of the Welsh Open by Liam Highfield, and he subsequently withdrew from the Turkish Masters and Gibraltar Open.
Instead of ramping up his preparations for snooker’s showpiece event, Selby instead took a holiday to Dubai with his family.
After a heavy defeat by Barry Hawkins at the Masters in London, Selby admitted a “huge weight” has been lifted off his shoulders after revealing his struggles with his mental health.
“Up to a few months ago, I was [considering not playing],” said world number two Selby.
“When I decided to pull out of the other two tournaments, I didn’t pull out of the Worlds because you didn’t need to let them know at that particular time.
“I wasn’t even thinking of playing in this, I thought I would just give the next few weeks, see how that goes with the doctor and if I feel a bit better I will come and play because it would be a shame not to come here as defending champion and try to play.
“Even if you are just out there and don’t perform, at least you can say you’ve been here and tried to defend it. I was thinking about it, but as the weeks have gone on I have seen a little bit of improvement in myself so we will give it a go.”
Selby has won a total of 20 ranking titles and, asked if winning the title would be his greatest achievement, he replied: “Possibly yeah, for sure, because the game is tough enough anyway.
“To be here for two weeks is mentally and physically quite draining. It is going to be a challenge for me but a challenge I am willing to try and take on and we will see what happens.”
I sometimes wish I’d have done something else – O’Sullivan
Six-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan returned to the top of the world rankings prior to the tournament and is aiming to equal Stephen Hendry’s haul of seven Crucible titles in Sheffield.
But the Rocket faces a tough first round match against dangerous qualifier David Gilbert and has sympathy for Selby having struggled with mental health issues himself.
O’Sullivan said: “Be careful if you want to take this game up, because you’re letting yourself in for a lot of disappointment, loneliness, a lot of dedication, a lot of playing in an environment when you don’t talk to each other.
“When you toll all that together you have to ask, is it really healthy? So before you undertake something like that you need to have a plan in place to reserve your own sanity.
“I sometimes wish I’d have done something else, but no matter what you do is going to be hard. If you want to be the best hairdresser in the world I am sure there are going to highs and lows with it, and you look at the rewards and ask if its going to be worth it?
“I’d rather have gone through the stresses and pains of being a golfer or a F1 or rally driver or a footballer in a team sport because nothing’s easy, so if nothing’s easy you at least think where’s the benefits?
“If I’ve got to go through all this stress and pain I can at least look back it and say that softened the blow. ”
No regrets this year – Robertson
Meanwhile, Australia’s Neil Robertson comes into the tournament as favourite as the form player of the season, winning four titles including the Masters and being a beaten finalist in another.
But his record at the World Championship is surprisingly poor since lifting the trophy in 2010, reaching just one semi-final eight years ago.
“Terrible, it is awful. Shocking,” Robertson told BBC Sport.
“There have been a couple unlucky quarter-finals where it has gone super close and then there have been times where I have been in a good position and taken my foot off the gas, in particular the last few years.
“This season I have been good at keeping the foot down and winning matches really well and also coming back in matches and winning.”
Robertson, who kicks off his title quest against debutant Ashley Hugill, added: “I have to accept I am not the best safety player like John Higgins or Mark Selby, but my best strength is the attacking play, get the balls in the open and making big breaks.
“The last few years I have got beaten here, I have thought I wish I played more my game. The worst thing in sport is not the winning or losing, it is the regrets. This year there won’t be any of that.”
Ronnie O’Sullivan insists Netflix-style documentary will not add pressure
Ronnie O’Sullivan says he ‘couldn’t give a monkey’s’ if he crashes out in the first round at the Crucible – even though a camera crew are following his every move.
The world No1 is currently being filmed for a Netflix-style documentary, with producers hoping to capture him win a record-equalling seventh world title.
O’Sullivan, who last lifted the trophy in Sheffield in 2020, faces a tough opening tie against former semi-finalist and world No19 David Gilbert on Saturday.
But the 46-year-old said: ‘If I’m going to get bombed out in the first round, I couldn’t give a monkey’s.
‘The documentary isn’t about me trying to win a world title. If it happens, great. If not they’ll have to put up with a first-round exit. They’re the business guys behind it, I’m just an actor.
‘The reason I’m doing it is because of everything I’ve done in my past. It’s a chance for people to watch someone they’ve followed for years.
‘Let them see the pressure, the stress, the good and the not-so-good.’
O’Sullivan also insists he is not motivated by trying to match Stephen Hendry’s record haul. ‘Seven, eight, nine, ten, they are just numbers to me,’ added the Rocket.
‘If people want to talk about it, great, but I am just enjoying my life. Snooker is the least important thing in my life.
‘I don’t get tied into all these records and stuff. Life first, snooker after.
‘I think anyone can win the tournament this year because there are so many good players.
‘The first round is going to be like Formula One into the first corner, it’s going to be carnage. There will be a lot of seeds going, guaranteed.’
Hossein Vafaei criticisms also came in the conversation … and Ronnie’s reaction was reported by Phil Haigh
The strong words from the Prince of Persia have not seemed to bother O’Sullivan, who is well aware that he has said more than a few controversial things over his great career.
The Rocket is certainly not fuming about the criticism, but he might just be a bit more fired up next time they meet on the table.
‘I can’t start criticising when people say something,’ said O’Sullivan. ‘Some of the things I’ve said over the years have been…I look back and laugh at them because some of them have been blinders.
‘I can’t help but laugh, I look back and think, “that was a beauty!” You know what I mean? Sometimes you need to say something just to fire yourself up.
‘Hossein has said what he said. Listen, he’s a great player, he’s a good guy and you know…it’ll be a good match if I play him.’
They can only meet in the Final… bring it on!
And finally, the first price for elegance goes to Victoria’s boys…
Added … two excerpts of the press conference. Sorry about the pretty terrible soubd quality.