The importance of being Ronnie

The importance of being Ronnie

Morning all. You know that feeling you get as you put your head down to sleep after a great night out, or head home from the airport after a memorable holiday? Along with the expected feelings of joy, satisfaction, nostalgia and fatigue, there is always detectable a ounce of dread as you realize that its all over and normal life must begin again.

Call me odd, but I also get this feeling at the end of great sporting tournaments and competitions. On finals day at Wimbledon, or the World Cup or the Olympics, I always feel a sadness as the final point is played or ball is kicked. That which has beautifully occupied my time and thoughts for the past few weeks is no more, and I will have to find something else to do with my life (until the next great sporting event comes along).

This is precisely how I feel this morning, because after 17 days of mostly guilt-free snooker indulgence, the 2020 World Championships concluded last night with a comfortable 18-8 win for Ronnie O’Sullivan over fellow Englishman Kyren Wilson.

The final itself was a bit of a damp squib. On the first day, both men were obviously still feeling the mental and physical effects of their epic semifinals as the errors flowed. Ronnie started the stronger of the two and quickly surged into a 8-2 lead as Wilson, playing in his first Crucible final, struggled to settle into the match.

But in the evening session, the 28 year-old debutant found his groove and reeled off five out of six frames to reduce the arrears to 9-7. In the final frame of the day, Wilson built a lead of 60 points and had a red along the cushion to make it 9-8. He missed it and Ronnie held his nerve to clear up and make it 10-7 overnight. Despite looking half asleep as he battled with his cue action for much of the day, he had somehow emerged with a three frame lead at the halfway stage.

At the time that moment felt like a turning point, and so it proved to be. On Sunday morning, Ronnie chose to skip his regular morning run to arrive at the venue early and hit the practice table in a bid to find some last-minute form. It clearly worked. Wilson took the first frame of the day with a lovely break of 73, but O’Sullivan then wrested control from his inexperienced opponent. He won the next eight frames thanks to seven breaks of 50 plus and needed just 10 minutes of the final session to wrap up a comfortable victory.

The Crucible, which was partially full for the final after receiving the green light from the government, was denied the tension and drama for which it is famous. But the crowd, vociferously in favour of O’Sullivan as always, will have gone home happy nonetheless.

The victory is a significant one for the history books. It puts the Rocket alongside Ray Reardon and Steve Davis with six World Championship titles. Only Stephen Hendry, otherwise known as the King of the Crucible, has more with seven. This was also Ronnie’s 37th ranking tournament win, enough to see him move one clear of Hendry as the most successful snooker player of all time.

In short, it is a quite remarkable achievement for O’Sullivan. He has long been touted as the most talented man to ever pick up a cue, with good reason. But even at 44 years-old, he managed to win the World Championship without playing anywhere near his best (at least not in the final). In fact, he is arguably improving with age. Twenty years ago, as a supremely talented but tempestuous rising star, he would not have dug himself out of the 16-14 hole against Selby in Friday’s semifinal.

And the signs suggest he could continue. Snooker is not the most physically-demanding sport on the planet, but Ronnie looks in fantastic shape. Apparently he runs 40 miles a week around the hills of Epping Forest, and he has spoken in depth about how exercise and nutrition have a direct impact on his snooker performance. In truth, as I watched him march energetically and purposefully around the table during the past fortnight, his silver sideburns were the only reminder of his advancing years. Hendry will be sweating on that record of seven titles.

Not only does he remain the man to beat on tour, he is also still by far the sport’s biggest draw. He is absolutely brilliant to watch on the table. After his seminal victory, Selby suggested that Ronnie’s all-out-attack approach was disrespectful to the sport and his opponent. I couldn’t disagree more. Ronnie knows that his strength is in attack not defence. He was under the cosh and knew that the only way to turn things around in that match was to play his style of snooker. He took massive risks, but they were all well within the rules of the game. The result was a mesmerising comeback filled with outlandish pots and dizzying breaks. Ronnie is the only player who can produce that kind of entertainment.

But as he thrills on the table, he is just as engaging off it. His honesty and the lack of shit that he gives for political correctness or public relations has also helped to endear him to fans down the years.

In this tournament alone there have been a number of headline-hitting quotes. After his second-round win over Ding Junhui, for example, he noted that he would have to lose “an arm and a leg” to drop out of the world’s top 50, so low is the standard in the lower echelons of the game. It wasn’t the most respectful stance to take on his fellow professionals and he probably regrets his choice of words. But it was a hilarious interview and such a refreshing segway from the usual corporate press-release bollocks you get with 99% of post-match media. Its so nice to hear someone speak their mind instead of holding their tongue for fear of the repercussions.

Sport is entertainment and we, the fans, respond to truthful and relatable characters just as we do when watching a film or reading a novel. I love snooker but it is not the most action-packed sport. In today’s TikTok world, where people expect to be entertained in under 15 seconds, snooker needs people like Ronnie. Here’s to a few more years of him on tour (inserts frothing beer mug emoji).

Right, that’s all for today. Have a great start to the week, back here on Wednesday.