Ronnie O’Sullivan, snooker’s greatest ever natural talent, conquered the Crucible for the fourth time by beating Ali Carter 18-11 in the final of the Betfred.com World Championship.
He joins John Higgins on four world titles at the Crucible, having lifted the trophy in 2001, 2004, 2008 and now 2012. Only Stephen Hendry (seven) and Steve Davis (six) have won more titles at snooker’s Theatre of Dreams.
O’Sullivan showed only glimpses of his extraordinary skill during the two-day final, but did enough to win the first three sessions against gritty Carter by 5-3, 5-4 and 5-3 scorelines. That left him 15-10 in front, and he added the three frames he needed tonight with the minimum of fuss to claim the £250,000 top prize and keep up his 100 per cent record in world finals. It was O’Sullivan’s 12th win in 12 career meetings against fellow Essex cueman Carter.
It’s the 24th ranking title of O’Sullivan’s career, again bringing him level with Higgins. At 36 years and five months, he’s the oldest winner of the world crown since Ray Reardon in 1978. O’Sullivan becomes the only player other than Stephen Hendry to win more than £2million in prize money at the Crucible, and takes his total career earnings to just under £7million.
O’Sullivan indicated after his semi-final win over Matthew Stevens that he might now join Hendry in putting his cue away for good. He has talked of retiring since his late teens, so his millions of fans around the world will hope that this threat to quit the sport is no different to the others. But if this is to be O’Sullivan’s last hurrah in the beautiful green baize game, then he has gone out at the top.
This season, like many before, has been one of highs and lows for the Chigwell player. He has suffered first round exits and pulled out for events, but when he is good, he is very, very good. This is his fifth title of the season having won two PTC events, the Premier League and the German Masters. He is now up to No 9 in the world rankings having come within a whisker of dropping out of the top 16 earlier in the campaign.
So unpredictable was his form ahead of snooker’s biggest event that he was rated 10/1 for the title by Betfred, behind several other players. He was handed a tough draw with matches against three former champions, Peter Ebdon, Mark Williams and Neil Robertson, just to reach the semi-finals. Over the 17 days, O’Sullivan has been at his best only in brief spells…but those spells have been enough. Devastating bursts of six consecutive frames in each of his first four matches did the damage at key moments. And when the Rocket was not firing on all cylinders, he could fall back on a safety and tactical game which is formidable when his mind is focussed.
Top of O’Sullivan’s list of thank-yous will be Dr Steve Peters, the inspirational psychiatrist who has helped him control the emotional highs and lows which come with top level sport. “What you achieve and who you are two separate things and we often muddle these up,” Peters explains. “The drive to win is healthy if it is kept in perspective.”
Carter, who wins £125,000, will be disappointed to go home with the runner-up prize for the second time having lost 18-8 to O’Sullivan in 2008. But his performances in this tournament have been a revelation given that he has suffered for most of the season on and off the table because of Crohn’s disease. He has also considered retirement in recent months, but just weeks ago discovered a dairy and wheat-free diet which has caused a dramatic improvement in both his health and form. He will start next season ranked 17th in the world, but with every confidence of getting back to the level which won him two ranking titles.
O’Sullivan won the first frame tonight with a break of 70 to go 16-10 up. Carter took the next with a 64 then O’Sullivan dominated frame 28 with runs of 26 and 46 to go six up with seven to play. And a break of 61 in the next sealed victory as his mum Maria and four-year-old son Ronnie joined the celebrations. O’Sullivan’s top breaks over the final were 56, 117, 52, 92, 141, 68, 62, 101, 54, 64, 55, 70 and 61.
O’Sullivan said: “I just want to congratulate Ali on a brilliant tournament, he’s come good again, he’s beaten some brilliant players and to make it all the way to the final, I’ve just got to say well done to Ali really.
“I just think I played with a bit more fluency, I tried to stay patient, I think I only lost it once during the whole tournament where I thought I’m not really up to scratch. I quickly turned that session around and it’s just about staying in control of your emotions and not getting too carried away. I made sure I wasn’t being too critical of myself if things didn’t go well and next time I get to the table try and play the best shot I can possibly play and that’s what I’ve done. It’s hard to do that for 17 days. It’s an absolute marathon. I never doubted myself that I could win another tournament, but to win another world title I did question that.
“I have to thank Steve Peters because he’s an expert scientist of how the brain works. I’ve never needed anyone to tell me how to play snooker, I’ve had help along the way which I’m very thankful for. But Steve just helped me understand that my brain is a machine and if I can manage it I can do anything I want to. Deep down in my heart I would love to play snooker, I’ve always loved the game but I got too involved and wrapped up in it. He’s just made me realise that you can’t be perfect, you can do your best and that’s all you can do.
“That’s the philosophy behind it, we’re fortunate to be able to play this game, so it’s allowed me to be happy in my life and enjoy the game as well. I’m not a better player, I’m just giving myself more of a chance I suppose.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get the opportunity to share a moment like this with my son Ronnie so it’s so nice to have him here. He loves snooker, I’ve tried to turn him off it but he’s having none of it. I got a bit emotional even before the match was over because I felt it was just me and him in the whole arena. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had I my life.
“I’ve had a long time to think about everything I’ve done. I’m not saying I have retired but what I am saying is that my family has become the most important thing in my life. I’ve made plans, but I’m making no knee-jerk reactions, I’m taking a few months off and I’ll assess the situation.
“I know there’s a big responsibility for me to promote the game and I think I do do that, and if I could play in every tournament I would but it’s hard sometimes.
“I don’t feel old but when I look around at tournaments and see all these youngsters and they’re buzzing I think, ‘well how long can I go on?’ My chances of winning tournaments are getting less and less, though I still feel that I have enough experience and skill to give myself a chance. My long game wasn’t great but it was OK and I was able to string a few frames together and do some damage.
“The toughest match I’ve played in this event was against Neil Robertson and I enjoyed that match as much as any match I’ve ever played, against someone I consider to be one of the best players in the world. To win it in an aggressive kind of style – I was pleased with that.
“In spells I played some fantastic stuff, against Williams I played six brilliant frames, against Neil I played a fantastic couple of sessions, against Matthew I played some very good frames and in the final I played well again, but there were some dodgy ones. Everyone misses balls, it’s just me trying to accept that you can miss, I’ve just got this mad thing that I can’t miss even for 17 days, I can be my own worst critic some times and that’s not been a good thing for me, but I’m working on that.”
Carter said: “I’m just disappointed to lose. I didn’t feel like I played well in the final, Ronnie put me under all kinds of pressure out there, his safety was unbelievable, even his break offs had me in trouble every time. I was pleased I did compete and I’ll be back next year.
“Ronnie played the better snooker so he’s going to get the luck, but the better man won. He’s a genius and it’s the Ronnie O’Sullivan show.
“Tonight I was just trying to make a game of it, I didn’t do anything wrong there, I had one chance and won the frame from it, in the other ones I didn’t have a sniff.
“I’m disappointed because it’s not about getting to the final it’s about winning it and I haven’t so that’s the bitter pill to swallow.
“I’d be pleased for the game if he keeps playing, he’s got so much more to give and when his head’s on he’s the best all round player by far, his safety always gets overlooked but I thought mine’s been awesome this tournament but his has been better.
“I didn’t really get in a position to attack, he played a very good game, his tactical game was unbelievable so I just didn’t get the opportunity. I don’t think I missed any long balls because I didn’t get any to go at, it’s not as if I missed loads of long reds to get in.”