Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Barry Hawkins 18-12 in the final of the Betfair World Championship to become the first player to win back-to-back Crucible crowns since Stephen Hendry’s heyday.
Not since Hendry reigned supreme on snooker’s biggest stage from 1992 to 1996 has a player successfully defended the title, but a wonderful display from O’Sullivan in the final saw him take the trophy again. It is his fifth world title – adding to those he won in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012 – a feat only previously achieved by Hendry and Steve Davis.
In one of the best conclusions to the tournament in recent years, O’Sullivan produced mesmerising spells of heavy scoring and compiled six centuries, a feat never achieved before in the final, as well as ten more breaks over 50. Hawkins also played his part with a brave display, but ultimately couldn’t hold back an opponent who added discipline and determination to his sublime skill. The Rocket, whose prize was £250,000, has won all five of the world finals he has contested.
At 37, O’Sullivan is the oldest winner since Ray Readon who was 45 when he won the sixth of his crowns in 1978. Three weeks ago, Chigwell’s O’Sullivan stated his goal of winning the event while in his 40s. Despite his subsequent suggestions that this could be his last Crucible campaign, he will surely be back for several more tilts and could yet match the tallies of Davis (six) and Hendry (seven).
Remarkably, he has won the title having played just one competitive match this season – at an untelevised PTC event last September – prior to the Sheffield showpiece. There can be few others in any sport capable of overcoming such a lack of competitive sharpness through sheer natural ability. In all, O’Sullivan has now won 25 ranking titles, equal with John Higgins and behind only Davis (28) and Hendry (36).
Hendry was 30 when he won the last of his seven world crowns, whereas O’Sullivan’s game has matured through his 30s. His work with renowned psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters has helped him deal with the stress of being under the spotlight, allowing his talent to thrive. O’Sullivan admitted tonight he wonders how many more titles he could have won if he had met Peters 20 years ago.
Hawkins, who had never previously been beyond the second round at the Crucible, had a brilliant fortnight, knocking out the likes of Mark Selby and Ding Junhui. He was not over-awed by the final, when others might have crumbled against an unstoppable opponent. Hawkins goes back to Ditton in Kent with £125,000, by far his biggest pay-day, and the knowledge that he has the game to compete at the very top level.
O’Sullivan led 15-10 after the afternoon session, which was watched by celebrities including actor Stephen Fry, darts king Phil Taylor, artist Damien Hirst and musicians Serge Pizzorno and Noel Fielding. Hawkins started the evening in superb style with a break of 127, equalling the record of eight centuries in the final. And when he took the next with a run of 66 to make it 15-12, he looked in with a chance of causing the biggest upset since Joe Johnson stunned Davis in 1986.
But O’Sullivan – as he did throughout the event – responded to pressure in clinical fashion. Breaks of 77, 88 and 86 saw him reel off the last three frames in just 30 minutes. His young son Ronnie Jnr as well as mum Maria and sister Danielle joined him on stage as the Crucible crowd rose to applaud their hero.
“I thought it was a brilliant final,” said O’Sullivan. “The snooker overall was very good. Barry has got the game to do well at a tournament like this. He looks like he could do another World Championship to me. He looks as fresh as a daisy and he is a very efficient player. I put him under a lot of pressure this afternoon, I felt I had to. Tonight he came out all guns blazing and I feared the worst. I had to make my chances count because if I did not then he could have got it back to 15-14.”
Asked which of his five titles meant the most, he said: “The first one was always one for me to get over. That was a massive relief. The next two I just kind of won and did not really feel much. I was in that place where I was over analysing and criticising myself too much. Last year I came here off the back of two lean years and people were writing me off. At times I felt I played some of the best snooker I had ever played and it was the same again this year. Having worked with Steve Peters I was able to hold my emotions a lot more than before.
“In the final I had everything to lose and nothing to gain. I know how good Barry is – to the outside world they think I should never lose but on the snooker circuit everybody knows how good Barry is.
“I will enjoy the moment and enjoy one of the best moments of my career. It has not really sunk in yet and I feel like I have just done a job. It will probably sink in a few days time.”
Asked how many events he is likely to play in next year, O’Sullivan added: “I just do not know what is going to happen because things are always changing. Come December or January I will have a much better idea of what I will be doing.”
Hawkins said: “I put him under as much pressure as I could. But every time I missed an easy ball he punished me. I tried my hardest in that final and I just made a few more mistakes than Ronnie. You cannot afford to do that against a player of his calibre because he is just unbelievable. The way he makes it look so easy is just amazing.
“I still felt I could win the match. I felt really good out there even with all the pressure. I was just gutted that I missed some balls. I was hitting some nice big breaks. I am delighted with the tournament that I have had and hopefully I will have a lot more years in me yet.
“It is a strange feeling to be honest – all of my friends and family are buzzing a lot more than me. I am just pleased that I gave him some sort of a game. I just kept trying hard. I am sure I will collapse now, especially after the last couple of weeks.
“I hope that I will be able to win it here one day but Ronnie is by far the best player in the world. There is no shame in that at all really. I tried my hardest out there and I am proud of what I did.”