Ronnie O'Sullivan: For The Game's Sake, Please Don't Retire

After sealing another World Championship in mercurial style, Ronnie O'Sullivan asserted his value as an icon of the sport.
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After sealing another World Championship in mercurial style, Ronnie O'Sullivan asserted his value as an icon of the sport.

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With the final of the 75th World Snooker Championship evenly poised at 3-3 during Sunday’s opening session, Ronnie ‘the Rocket’ O’Sullivan approached the table. The way the balls were laid out on the baize resembled something from two kids in your local snooker club: reds were scattered everywhere, most of them sat tight on the bottom cushion or in awkward positions on the side of the table; the blue was the only colour on its spot, and both the pink and black were tied up. “He’ll do well to get above twenty from here,“ predicted Willie Thorne on commentary and, to be fair, if anyone other snooker player was at the table then it’s likely that his prophecy would have rang true. Yet what followed was one of greatest moments in recent British sporting history: a genuinely breathtaking clearance of 92 left the crowd at the crucible completely in awe.

Unwilling to rest on his laurels, Ronnie followed that up with an equally impressive clearance of 141 – his twelfth century at this year’s tournament – to take a 5-3 lead in to the second session. From there he never looked back, and marched on to claim a dominant 18-11 win over Ali Carter - who himself deserves a lot of credit for performing valiantly whilst suffering from Crohn's disease - taking the Rocket’s tally of world titles to four. This win made him only the fifth player in history to win the World Championship four times or more (Stephen Hendry has won a record seven championships in the 90’s, whilst Steve Davis and Ray Reardon won six each in the 80’s and 70’s respectively, and both John Higgins and O’Sullivan have four crucible titles apiece).

This year’s tournament saw Ronnie back to his brilliant best. There was no easy route to the final, either: he had to defeat three former world champions in Peter Ebdon, Mark Williams and Neil Robertson, before beating Matthew Stevens (himself a two-time finalist at the crucible) to face Carter – who, incidentally, was his opponent in the final the last time he won the World Championship back in 2008 – yet at no stage of the tournament did he ever look in any trouble. It served as a gentle reminder that when he’s on song there is simply nobody Ronnie O’Sullivan him in the game. His ambidexterity is truly something to behold; few are able to construct century breaks with the panache that O’Sullivan does when using their strongest hand, let alone do it with their weaker hand.

Let’s hope, for the game’s sake, that this is not the last we see of the Ronnie O’Sullivan in competitive snooker.

Still, there is no doubting that O’Sullivan is a flawed genius. His career and reputation have been surrounded with controversy as much as they have success. Winning four world titles is an incredible achievement for any player, and Ronnie has been victorious all four finals that he has participated in, something the other aforementioned multiple world champions cannot claim to have done, but there is still the sense that he has underachieved given his unmatchable talent. The most naturally talented player to ever grace the baize has had to deal with his personal demons throughout his entire professional career, yet there is still the lingering sense that he could have achieved so much more.

For years criticism has been levelled at his attitude and commitment to the game. He famously conceded a quarter-final match at the 2006 UK Championship against Stephen Hendry despite only trailing 4-1 and was subsequently fined £21000, and at that stage of his career it looked likely that he would quit the game; he has won two world titles since then. If he had the same dedication and application to the game that many inferior players have shown, it is likely that he would have broken every record in the game and been much more dominant than he has been. It is well documented that he has struggled with clinical depression for years and there have always been question marks over his mental health. His father, who bought Ronnie a full-size snooker table as a kid, was found guilty of murder as his son's career ignited in the 90’s and was jailed for life, but was released from prison in 2010. However, O’Sullivan has said that his mental state has improved considerably since he has been working with Dr Steve Peters, a sport psychiatrist, so snooker fans will be hoping that he still has the appetite to win more titles; whether he has is still up for debate.

The topic of retirement is one that regularly comes up in interviews (although it should be noted that O’Sullivan has spoke about this since many times over the past fifteen years, so it is easy to remain sceptical). This World Championship will be remembered for Stephen Hendry, the most successful player to ever play the game, announcing his retirement after an illustrious career, and Ronnie said before the final that he’s considering joining Hendry is hanging the cue up. After his victory in the final O’Sullivan said he’d have a six month sabbatical and then assess the situation. He did, however, make it clear that he will not bow down to the demands of Chairman Barry Hearn, who expects all players to fully participate in a rigorous 50 week calendar with regular trips to the Far East as China strengthens its grip on the game.

Snooker cannot afford to lose another iconic player so soon after Hendry’s departure. After becoming the second oldest champion of all-time, O’Sullivan should be protected by the game's authorities, not ridiculed. They should be working towards a schedule that will work for everybody. The Rocket is the people’s champion. Like him or loathe him, he draws attention to the game from people who would otherwise have nothing more than a passing interest in snooker. The game needs him more than he needs the game.

Let’s hope, for the game’s sake, that this is not the last we see of the Ronnie O’Sullivan in competitive snooker.

Snooker World Championships: How It Feels To Get Whipped By 'Rocket' Ronnie O'Sullivan

World Seniors Snooker Championship: Willie Thorne On Snooker’s Golden Oldies

Willie Thorne Interview: Addiction, Bankruptcy and Taking A Punt On Life

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