Ronnie O’Sullivan is 43, turned professional 27 years ago, and, because he is not only still playing professional snooker but is also still playing it prodigiously well, he breaks a record almost every time he picks up a cue nowadays.
Fifteen days ago, in the Players Championship final at Preston, he scored his 1000th century break in professional tournament play to win his 35th ranking tournament. Yesterday, in the Tour Championship final at Llandudno, he also won, duly winning his 36th. Both were records: no one has ever scored 1000 pro centuries ever before, and he is now tied with Stephen Hendry on 36 ranking tournaments; he will win more, and soon, thereby leaving Hendry behind and setting a new benchmark.
But that was not all. Yesterday, the world’s best player finally attained the world No1 status that his unparalleled ability has always warranted, wresting it from Mark Selby, who is an excellent player but is not in O’Sullivan’s league, for the simple reason that no one is.
The Rocket last held the No1 spot in May 2010. The only reason he has not held it more often, and/or for longer, is that he picks and chooses his tournaments these days. For that reason, while he is avoiding the competitions he dislikes, of which there are many, players such as Selby, consistently successful and rarely absent, are steadily clocking up ranking points. The Tour Championship, which O’Sullivan won yesterday, adding £150,000 to his career earnings and thereby pushing them close to the £11 million mark, was the 18th ranking tournament of the 2018/2019 season; he has skipped eight of those 18.
The ranking tournament prior to the Tour Championship was the Gibraltar Open, which O’Sullivan missed and about which he tweeted “I’d rather sleep in a pig sty then [sic] have to go and play in the Gibraltar Open.” The next ranking tournament on the calendar is the China Open – and, scotching the oft-levelled accusation that O’Sullivan misses tournaments only when the winner’s purse is low, he will not be in Beijing next week, despite the £225,000 first prize (by contrast, Stuart Bingham picked up £25,000 for winning in Gibraltar).
O’Sullivan will therefore be supremely well rested and well prepared for the final ranking tournament of the season, the World Championship at the famous Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, which will commence on April 20th. He will have an eye on the £500,000 first prize, of course he will, but he will also be keen to bolster his restored hegemony in the world rankings; both ambitions can be achieved by winning, and the Rocket may well do just that.
He has struggled – comparatively – in the World Championship in recent years, having won it five times in all but not at all since 2013, but he is now in the best form of his life, and his few recent slip-ups have mostly been against mediocre players (“numpties” in Ronnie-speak) in tournaments that he does not rate.
In Sheffield he may be unstoppable.