Ronnie O’Sullivan has warned his snooker rivals he may keep playing at the highest level until his mid-50s as the dust settles on another world championship victory. O’Sullivan equalled Stephen Hendry’s modern-era record of seven Crucible titles by defeating Judd Trump on Monday, further erasing any doubt to the debate that he is snooker’s greatest player.
But there is no sign of the 46-year-old slowing down. He has ended the season as the world No 1, and his seventh world crown was perhaps his most impressive yet, with O’Sullivan losing only one session all tournament as he became the oldest world champion in Crucible history, setting a personal record of 15 centuries for the tournament in the process.
O’Sullivan had previously said he envisaged playing for three more years at the top, but has now hinted he could carry on beyond that. “I could probably play to my mid-50s if I wanted to,” he said. “The tournaments like this will be a bit of a strain, there might not be much chance of winning them, but everything else, why not? I still enjoy being on the circuit, I’m having fun with it.”
Both Trump and Hendry backed O’Sullivan to go beyond seven world titles in the aftermath of his latest victory, even if O’Sullivan himself stressed he is not concerned with accolades or being regarded as the greatest player in history. But that position is now almost certainly secure after another landmark victory in Sheffield, as his allegiance with the renowned sporting psychiatrist Steve Peters continues to bear fruit.
By his own admission, O’Sullivan was ready to walk away from snooker a decade ago before uniting with Peters. Since then, he has broken nearly every record there is to break on the baize, including the most career centuries, most ranking titles and a further four world crowns in little more than 10 years. “I thought I was done at 35,” O’Sullivan admitted.
“When I went to see Steve in 2011, I was ready to quit. By 33, the likes of Hendry and [Steve] Davis were on the way down, I’d accepted that was the trend. But me, Willo [Mark Williams] and [John] Higgins have kept on going and we’re still playing. I lacked that skill which he has developed in me and I wouldn’t have carried on otherwise.”
“He asked me to help him be happy playing his sport,” Peters told Radio 4’s Today programme. “He’s learned to understand himself and got insights into the way he functions. He’s a very emotional man and they can get the better of him but he’s learned to recognise the trigger points, which is why he’s presenting as a different person at the snooker table. He’s very empathic but serious in what he does.”
How fitting too that the latest success for snooker’s serial winner was followed every step of the way by a camera crew who will produce an upcoming Netflix documentary about O’Sullivan’s life and career. They have followed him for the last six months but in final scenes not too dissimilar to The Last Dance, which captured Chicago Bulls’ 1998 NBA play-off triumph, there will be a happy ending to this show, too.
“I suppose it is a bit of a dream ending,” he said. “They’ve been following me around for six or seven months and I couldn’t have envisaged this, they’ve had a result really. There is a shelf life to every player but I don’t want to be sitting around doing nothing, I just want to prolong my career as long as I can.
“If I can get another two world titles out, that would be great … but I just like playing. I enjoy work away from snooker and I’m not all-in with snooker now. I became all-in this week, I was emotionally involved. For most of the year it’s like a holiday; win or lose, it didn’t matter, but this was a different beast and I found it difficult to go into the pit again.
“They say they’ve never had so much access to a sportsman before. They’ve been everywhere. There’s probably enough content to do a five-hour show.” But while the Netflix documentary about snooker’s grand master of the baize will culminate with his latest triumph, you get the sneaking suspicion that O’Sullivan’s own story is still some way from completion. For his entire career he has shrugged off the importance of breaking records, but his emotions on Monday evening suggests he knows all too well what this latest victory represents.