Ronnie O' Sullivan's incredible victory for the World Snooker Championships Trophy, after a year in which he took a complete hiatus from the game, has secured him a unique place in snooker's pantheon of great champions. O' Sullivan became the first player to record back-to-back world championship wins since Stephen Hendry in 1996, and joined an elite group of only three players who have won at least five titles at the iconic Crucible Theatre; Steve Davis and Hendry being the others.
But the victory cannot be measured in purely statistical terms, coming as it did after a year in which O' Sullivan played no competitive snooker whatsoever. It was the nature of this achievement that lead some credible judges to revise their opinion regarding the greatest player of all-time in its aftermath. Dennis Taylor markedly stated during his BBC commentary that he now regarded O' Sullivan as the greatest player to pick up a cue, while John Parrott described one of his performances as being akin to “snooker from the gods”. O' Sullivan himself deflected such praise stating that he still considered Scottish seven-times world champion Hendry to be the greatest. But this feat alone has definitely at least seen O' Sullivan elbow his way into the argument.
Yet such is the incandescent brilliance of which O' Sullivan is capable, that even this most staggering of victories was not altogether surprising. In his very first frame back in competitive snooker, O' Sullivan made a single visit 85 break which looked about as challenging to him as shelling peas. It was an ominous portent of what was to come, as the Essex Exocet simply played at a level throughout the tournament that no other player was capable of touching, let alone sustaining. There could hardly have been a statistic that more aptly illustrated O' Sullivan's pre-eminence than the fact that he didn't lose a single session during the entire tournament, winning every session he played except one that was shared with Judd Trump.
Such is the mercurial and unpredictable nature of O' Sullivan's temperament that he professed during the tournament that he probably wouldn't play in the World Championships again, and that he hadn't really missed snooker during his self-imposed exile. Yet the Rocket never looks more comfortable than when stalking the snooker table, seeking break building opportunities that other players wouldn't contemplate, let alone be able to pull off. It is hard to believe after picking up the World Snooker Championship trophy for a second year in succession that he won't be back in Sheffield to defend his title in twelve months time.
The World Snooker Championships has quite a quaint and odd history compared to many other sporting events, which reflects the fact that for many decades the game was merely a past-time for inveterate gamblers and ne'er-do-wells. The World Championships was actually created by the game's first great player, Joe Davis, who had originally cut his teeth in the more gentlemanly sport of billiards. But by the 1920s, having won a host of national and international titles, Davis had tired of the rather limited strategy and play involved in billiards, and turned his attention to snooker.
Given the fact that he was already one of world's premier billiards players – Davis was crowned World Billiards Champion on three occasions – it was hardly surprising that he soon became one of the world's greatest snooker players. Thus, with no formal recognition in place regarding who was the planet's premier snooker player, Davis set about organising the first World Snooker Championships, which was held back in 1927. At that time, there was no great attention or prize money involved; players competed for little more than prestige and love of the game. Davis duly won the first World Championship final 20-11 against Tom Dennis, and began a domination of the sport which would last until the 1950s.
One of the strange quirks of the first World Snooker Championships is that Davis won the trophy that he himself purchased for the competition! The solid silver World Snooker Championship trophy that Davis acquired for that very first most rudimentary of tournaments remains the one awarded to the players to this day. After over eighty years of World Snooker Championships, the trophy remains the premier snooker trophy in the world, with its classic cup-like appearance and angular handles instantly recognisable to anyone who follows the sport.
Over the years that the World Snooker Championship trophy has been competed for, virtually every major name in the game has picked it up at some point, with each 'era' of snooker possessing a dominant figure that loomed imposingly over the game as a whole. The early years of the sport were dominated by the Davis brothers, Joe and Fred. Ray Reardon reigned in the seventies, winning six titles. Steve Davis matched this achievement in the eighties, and Stephen Hendry picked up the trophy seven times in the nineties.
By picking the trophy up for the fifth time in Sheffield this year, O' Sullivan placed himself at the pinnacle of the greatest players to play the game, and has at least ensured that he is currently the consummate snooker player of the twentieth first century. Only time will tell whether or not this ambidextrous genius of the green baize will subdue his inner demons sufficiently to accrue further titles.