In an interview shortly after his masterclass against Stuart Bingham, Ronnie O’Sullivan surprised nobody when he announced that he was done with snooker. No, definitely this time. Absolutely no coming back. Probably. OK, I’m skint.
Before we get going, this isn’t just a hate-filled tirade against “The Rocket”, far from it. The man is a genius on the snooker table. It’s not his fault that suffering from clinical depression means his attitude towards his sport wavers from day to day, week on week; I won’t pretend to understand his condition and it can’t necessarily be helped. Sports psychiatrist Dr. Steve Peters was supposed to be ailing his concerns, making O’Sullivan feel he could get through tight spots in games and that seems to be working, although though this tricky situations have been few and far between, this year. What he hasn’t remedied is his total antipathy towards snooker and the fans that idolise him.
Either side of O’Sullivan’s 13-4 thumping of Bingham, a talented winner of the 2012 Premier League, the world number 28 was putting out all the right signals. He felt more at home after a year away from snooker and was contemplating attending events again next year, even considering plans for all professionals to enter the first round of a flat 128-man draw in almost every tournament. O’Sullivan even suggested that his doctor, Peters, could address Luis Suarez’s pent-up rage and authority issues – although I don’t think there’s much that can save a man who thinks Branislav Ivanovic’s arm looks like a chicken drumstick.
Now, O’Sullivan is ready to quit. Five days left, maybe just three; the “light at the end of the tunnel”. The world champion only returned to defend his title because he had failed to pay his children’s school fees for the last term or two. Really? The man who had spent the better part of a year tending to a farm, mulling over his future career path, was now hard-up. Must be an expensive school.
Sponsors of Ronnie must be reeling, caught in two minds. Great, any publicity is good publicity and their man hasn’t been out of the news for the past few days. But the uncertainty behind supporting the best in the world is back. He’s done with snooker. Yet, he’s contracted. Contracted to participate in ten more tournaments, be they “Legends” tours or low-profile shindigs. Hardly a good investment to make. Maybe they should be looking at other talent, people more committed to the future of their parlour game…
This is where I should be turning to former world number one, Judd Trump, but he’s hardly been painting himself in a favourable light. He has his fans and understandably so, perhaps behind only O’Sullivan himself when it comes to long pots and exhibition shots. Like boxers do ever so well (tongue firmly in-cheek, you’ll find), Trump has been riling up the fans in anticipation for their semi-final meeting at the 2013 World Championships, two years since Trump reached the 2011 final. He isn’t “scared of the big name”. He knows he leads the head-to-head 6-5. This is the “semi-final that should have been the final”. All correct, probably. But then he ruins it all: “I’ve heard from my brother that he hasn’t played that well.”
I don’t know what his brother was watching, but O’Sullivan’s been playing as well as anyone has ever seen him. A bit shaky in places, yeah, but effortless in others. The quarter-final score reflects this. Bingham certainly handed the match to him at times, missing sure pots by miles to cost himself yet another frame, but the defending champion still had to make sure. In turn, Trump took Shaun Murphy to a final-frame decider, one where Trump occasionally betrayed his confidence and looked like a frightened schoolboy once more.
The match begins today and the drama surrounding it has certainly enhanced the championship’s media interest, but then what. The winner of this match will head to the final as firm favourite against either Barry Hawkins or Ricky Walden from the other all-English semi-final. Not to take anything away from the seeded pair, but their half of the draw has been a particularly light one. As soon as Mark Selby and China’s Ding Junhui refused to play their “A-game” (I can’t believe I used that term), the path to the final was always a clearer one. Akin to this year’s FA Cup Final, a semi between Millwall and Wigan Athletic was always going to drum up the prospect of a disappointing final.
Then what? Ronnie wins again, quits again, sits around for a while and remembers that he’s bored and begs to come back on board again. And maybe World Snooker will bend to him and honour the tradition that allows defending world champions back at the Crucible (or China, should it inevitably move there) as top seed. Even so, snooker will move on without him, for better or worse. A new ranking event was announced to be held in the Netherlands and there are discussions afoot regarding one in India. 2012/13 has already been a great season with so many different winners and there’s little reason to believe everything won’t be rosy next time around.
Ronnie O’Sullivan really is a genius at the table. His work has inspired me, once again, to pick up a cue and try out snooker. Then I look at one of his interviews, realise snooker saps the life out of you, and I put that thought to the back of my head.
Good job, really – I’m rubbish.