World number one Ronnie O’Sullivan won a fourth straight Shanghai Masters title, beating World Champion Luca Brecel 11-9 in a thrilling final.
The Rocket is unbeaten in the city for seven years, with his last defeat coming at the hands of Michael Holt back in 2016. The Englishman’s winning streak in the event now stands at 19 matches.
O’Sullivan won the title in consecutive years between 2017 and 2019, beating Judd Trump, Barry Hawkins and Shaun Murphy in the respective finals. He has a total of five Shanghai Masters crowns to his name, having also been victorious in 2009, and is the standout player in the tournament’s history.
Today’s final was the latest edition of what could become the defining rivalry in modern snooker. Earlier this year 28-year-old Brecel produced a devastating burst to beat O’Sullivan 13-10 from 10-6 behind at the Crucible, where he would go on to capture his maiden world title. O’Sullivan got his revenge today and now leads the head-to-head standings between the pair 4-2.
Victory sees O’Sullivan pocket the £210,000 top prize with Brecel earning £105,000 as the runner-up. However, with the event being an invitational tournament it doesn’t count towards the world rankings and seven-time Crucible king O’Sullivan’s lead over world number two Brecel remains a slender £5,000.
O’Sullivan has had to show his battling qualities this week, most notably rallying from 5-2 down to beat John Higgins 6-5 in the quarter-finals. He needed to dig deep again in the afternoon session today, emerging 6-4 ahead after trailing 4-3.
The opening frame of the evening saw Brecel apply pressure with a break of 65 to make it 6-5. O’Sullivan immediately restored his two frame cushion by winning the 12th, but it was Brecel who then crafted breaks of 55 and 56 to head into the mid-session all-square at 7-7.
When play resumed O’Sullivan produced a devastating burst for the finish line. He fired in breaks of 143 and 120 on his way to three in a row, leaving him one from the title at 10-7.
The 39-time ranking event winner had opportunities to get over the line in a dramatic 18th frame, but Brecel eventually extended the tie with a stunning table length double on the final black to make it 10-8.
The Belgian then strung together 83 to pull with a single frame at 10-9. The 20th frame was another tense one, but this time O’Sullivan did get the job done on the blue to secure the title.
“I just tried hard. I mentally thought that plan A was to go out there, dominate and score breaks. Plan B was to keep my focus and emotions in check. I tried not to lose it out of frustration. It was one of those tournaments. I was well below par, but in moments I played alright when I had to. I wasn’t on auto pilot, everything was a bit of a struggle from start to finish,” said 47-year-old O’Sullivan.
“When you are in the sweet spot and hitting the ball well it feels like an easy game. It feels like you can do what you want on the table. When you aren’t, you get scared of even coming to the table. It is frightening. This game can be so difficult some days and others it can be so easy. I’ve gone two or three years without feeling that I’d missed a ball. I was flying. There were some balls out there that I was missing and I was laughing to myself.
“I’m not surprised Luca has done as well as he has. He’s not a surprise World Champion. He’s got an amazing gift to play this game. The performance he put on in Sheffield was unbelievable. He has improved a lot as a player and he loves the game. He has his girlfriend here with him and they seem to be having a great time. I wish I was at his stage of his career. He is a young man with a lot of years ahead of him. Snooker is getting bigger in China so it is a good time to be a professional snooker player.”