There were plenty of people who thought Ronnie O’Sullivan would never win another World Snooker Championship. They said he was past it, that he didn’t have the dedication required for the 17-day Sheffield slogfest, and that a new generation was overtaking the man regarded as the greatest to ever pick up a cue.
They were wrong. In strange circumstances at the Crucible Theatre, where fans came and went like leaves on the wind due to ever-changing government guidelines, O’Sullivan triumphed at the sport’s showpiece event for the sixth time, equalling Steve Davis’ total and taking himself just one behind Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles.
Indeed, it was perhaps fitting that in this strangest, most unique World Championship, it was snooker’s most unique personality that came out on top. O’Sullivan has long been a maverick, a man who openly admits he does not cope well with authority or being told what to do, whose boredom in media interviews often manifests in monosyllabic answers, song, or general pot-stirring.
All of that was on show throughout the 17 days in Sheffield, where O’Sullivan admits he was not at his breathtaking best, but still did enough to beat four of the top 16 players in the world rankings, including an 18-8 demolition of Kyren Wilson in the final.
While O’Sullivan has won all there is to win in snooker, the question on many people’s lips is will this latest world title, which comes eight years after his last, be enough to finally secure the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award? In the latest Sports Personality of the Year 2020 odds, O’Sullivan lies in fourth behind the better fancied Tyson Fury, Marcus Rashford and Lewis Hamilton, but such an accolade would be yet another cherry on top of O’Sullivan’s already well-iced cake.
It remains a sore spot among many snooker fans that O’Sullivan has never won the award, given that he is regarded as the sport’s greatest ever exponent. Davis is the only snooker player to have won it, emerging victorious in 1988 after winning his fifth World Championship. Aside from perhaps Hendry, who had altogether a more clean-cut personality than O’Sullivan, there are few players who would warrant such an accolade, but the fact that O’Sullivan has not won it despite his manifold impressive achievements is a mystery.
After all, the Rocket is a rare example of a sportsperson who transcends their sport. Think of the likes of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer – names who are regarded as genuine sporting legends. In O’Sullivan’s case, he has brought an immense number of followers to snooker, those who are enraptured by O’Sullivan himself rather than the sport he plays.
It may be that the 44-year-old’s often controversial comments and behaviour throughout his career have worked against him in terms of winning Sports Personality of the Year. It could also be that his work with Eurosport, and the slight contempt with which he seems to hold the BBC’s role in snooker, has played a part, but those things cannot detract from his talents on the table or from his popularity among the masses.
Because whether or not you like O’Sullivan as a person, or even snooker as a sport, you can’t help but marvel at the things he does on a snooker table. Few have possessed such pinpoint cue-ball control, few have boasted such consistent break-building, and few have had such a penchant for the audacious, nor such an instinct for entertainment.
O’Sullivan’s sixth world title was a phenomenal achievement. While he had been successful in smaller events, before winning the World Championship last month he had failed to reach even the semi-finals at the Crucible since he lost the final to Mark Selby in 2014. Winning it again was a tale of bouncing back from a place of darkness, the darkness that swallows great champions and strips them of their once fearsome reputation. But 27 years on from O’Sullivan’s first major snooker title, he has emerged once more as the sport’s top dog, and his position as snooker’s most feared player remains undented. That alone is worth recognition.