Ronnie O'Sullivan, 'the greatest of all time', thrashes Kyren Wilson to win sixth world title

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Jim White
·5 min read
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Ronnie O'Sullivan with the World Championship trophy - Ronnie O'Sullivan thrashes Kyren Wilson to win sixth world title - BBC
Ronnie O'Sullivan with the World Championship trophy - Ronnie O'Sullivan thrashes Kyren Wilson to win sixth world title - BBC

Ninteen years and three Covid-delayed months after he won his first World Snooker title, Ronnie O’Sullivan picked up his sixth at the Sheffield Crucible on Sunday evening. Equalling the number of wins of his boyhood hero Steve Davis and his former coach Ray Reardon, he now sits just one behind Stephen Hendry in the all-time world title league table. And the way he played in the final afternoon of the tournament, building up an unassaible lead over the debutant Kyren Wilson, there is every chance he will soon be overtaking Hendry’s haul. 

“I don’t think about records, I still try to play for the fun of it,” he said after his win. “When I was a kid I never really dreamed I would be here. To be here and have had all those victories is a dream that has become a reality. I was happy to get one, two was great, once I got four I could call myself one of the greats. Anything above four, blimey you are in fantastic company.”

He may not pay much heed to statistics, but O’Sullivan appeared to be in a hurry to get his hands on the trophy he last won in 2013. Pity the 300 fans who had landed one of the gold dust tickets for the final evening session, only to be rewarded with just 20 minutes of snooker. After a spectacular afternoon, which O’Sullivan concluded needing just one frame for overall victory, he paid no heed to any broadcaster’s wish for a tense, dramatic, lengthy evening of audience-building and applied the hyper-drive. 

But still, what a 20 minutes he offered up to his socially distanced supporters. It was pure O’Sullivan, cruising effortlessly towards a century break to round off his title charge, only then, when poised on 96 and addressing the final black, to mess it up like a cack-handed beginner. 

But that is his genius: when he is on song he is a sporting legend, when he isn’t he can stink the place out. What you never get with this champion is bland percentage snooker: he is the master of all or nothing. As he himself admitted, “my mind can wander sometimes, then I get a taste for it and say to myself, go on, see if you’ve still got it”.

And this entire final was an apt summary of his career. On Saturday evening, after building a sizeable lead in the afternoon, he had looked tired, distracted, off kilter. The mind was wandering all right. Doing his best to let Wilson back into the match, he suddenly looked grey of face, diminished, old. The young pretender from Kettering must have gone to bed that night thinking he was in with a real chance. 

Ronnie O'Sullivan (centre) with the Betfred World Snooker Championship trophy - BBC
Ronnie O'Sullivan (centre) with the Betfred World Snooker Championship trophy - BBC

Then O’Sullivan woke up on Sunday morning, shaved, primped up his hair and was on the practice table by 9am. And once the match restarted, the eye-rolling facial histrionics in which he indulged previously had disappeared. He started going for long shots he had conspicuously avoided in his Saturday doldrums. The speed with which he racked up a break of 71 in the 23rd frame, at one point switching hands to pot a difficult red, was indicative that he was back flying. Back to being Ronnie. 

Sadly for the Sunday afternoon crowd, Wilson was not putting up much resistance. He seemed to have been afflicted by the same self-doubt that had previously plagued his opponent. His decision making was awry, he was poor in his positional play, too often the noise that soundtracked one of his shots was that deep sigh of disappointment from the crowd, a sound sufficient to sap the confidence of the most buoyant player. And Wilson wasn’t buoyant. Even the luck seemed to have deserted him. He dispatched a beautiful, crisp, hard long pot for a red in the 25th frame, only to watch it loop round the pocket and stay on the table. He missed a pink in the middle, failed to pot a black when he needed every ball left on the table and was obliged to return to his corner to watch O’Sullivan move inexorably towards another title. He’d long dreamed of competing in the final. Sadly he was no longer competing, he was spectating. 

“I’m 28 so I'm not going to beat myself up too much,” he said after his sound defeat. “I was playing the greatest of all time. Though you can’t respect him too much or he’ll walk all over you. Which is what he just did to me.” 

But while Wilson faltered, O’Sullivan dazzled, getting better and better with each frame. He was in total control. Victory was only a matter of time. And O’Sullivan is not one to hang around when he sees his stars aligning. As he did in 2004 when he beat Graeme Dott, as he did when he beat Ali Carter in 2008, so here he completed a hat-trick of 18-8 world title winning wallopings.

It was a delight to watch the greatest player ever to hold a cue get himself back to his best. 

O’Sullivan may be 44, but right now it looks as if there is no one in his sport who can stop him eventually overtaking Hendry’s long-time record. Well, no one, that is, except Ronnie O’Sullivan.