The Magnificent Seven is complete. A 30-year journey to snookering immortality, which has not been without its bumps along the way, was never likely to be straightforward even in its final stages given the prize on offer. But despite Judd Trump making everyone wonder if the impossible could really happen at one stage on Monday afternoon, the world championship ended in yet more history for Ronnie O’Sullivan: and this bit really means something.
At times O’Sullivan is so laid back about the magnitude of his achievements in the game that he is practically horizontal. But anyone who understands snooker can appreciate that this moment, a seventh world title to draw level with Stephen Hendry and tie the modern-era record, is the one thing which will mean so much since he first lifted the trophy aloft inside the Crucible 21 years ago. At times it has seemed unrealistic that anyone could scale that mountain again, given the sheer dominance Hendry enjoyed to win his seven world crowns.
But if anyone was ever likely to join him, it was always going to be O’Sullivan, snooker’s grand master and great entertainer. Arguably O’Sullivan is playing in a field much tougher than Hendry ever did but, irrespective of that, the fact that he has now won world titles in three different decades is a staggering testimony to his longevity as a player that, worryingly for his peers, seems to be getting better and better.
When the final and most important break of the match was completed, O’Sullivan allowed the mask to slip in a lengthy embrace with Trump before his emotions came to the fore.
“I tried to be as relaxed as I could but that’s probably my greatest result against someone,” O’Sullivan said, before smiling: “This tournament brings out the worst in me but we’ll probably go again next year.” An eighth title, even in an era with players as special as Trump, does not seem impossible either.
On arrival in Sheffield on Monday it was not unreasonable to expect a procession, given the 12-5 lead the 46-year-old had accrued overnight. One wondered if Trump would return a beaten man, practically going through the motions and effectively conceding the title to his childhood hero. However, he won six of the eight frames available in the afternoon to reduce O’Sullivan’s cushion to three frames. It was his most dazzling session of the tournament and O’Sullivan’s worst, but the credit should go to Trump for the way he rallied.
As he won frame after frame, talk began to shift from whether there would even be an evening session, to whether those present could be witnessing the greatest comeback in snooker history, second only to when Dennis Taylor trailed Steve Davis 8-0 in 1985. Everyone knows what happened then. Ultimately however, there would be no repeat for the Bristolian, but he is surely a multiple world champion in waiting.
Even Trump could not hide his admiration for his hero on this most historic of snookering occasions. “He will go down to the best player of all-time,” he said. “He keeps getting better and better. His determination, dedication … you can see it out there. He was the best player throughout the tournament by quite far. I was happy to just make a match out of it this afternoon.”
However, his time will have to wait for at least one more year. No player goes through a world championship triumph without one session to forget and in the heat of the moment on Monday afternoon when Trump threatened to push O’Sullivan all the way, it was easy to forget that was the first time The Rocket had wavered all tournament long. This was arguably his masterpiece in terms of runs to a world crown, with near-dominance from start to finish.
Finely poised at 14-11 on Monday evening, O’Sullivan returned refreshed and revitalised for the final session. Had Trump claimed that first frame and clawed it back to two, maybe O’Sullivan’s nerves would have frayed. But breaks of 82, 88 and 75 either side of a gritty 64 from Trump took O’Sullivan to the verge of glory heading into the mid-session interval.
Trump needed a strong start in the evening but he did not get it. That left the door ajar for O’Sullivan and, despite a century from the 32-year-old in what proved the penultimate frame of the championship, his coronation was completed with a supreme break of 85.
If there were any doubts remaining about O’Sullivan’s status as the greatest of all-time, they may now finally have been removed.