Cometh the hour, cometh the man. And, make no mistake, Ronnie O’Sullivan is still The Man for snooker’s biggest occasions.
His victory in the Dafabet Masters at Alexandra Palace in London tonight means he has now collectively won snooker’s big three titles – World Championship, UK Championship and Masters – 14 times, one fewer than Steve Davis and only four from Stephen Hendry’s record haul of 18.
O’Sullivan described himself as a member of snooker’s ‘older brigade’ and at 38 he is, but he remains fit, focused and clearly able to produce outstanding performances when it matters.
He may yet overhaul Hendry as the modern era’s most successful player. O’Sullivan tonight said his aim is to win a world title at 40, which would be in 2015.
But I have always felt that, when it comes to Ronnie, it is less about bare facts and statistics and more about moments and the memories they generate.
None of us who were at the Ally Pally or watching on TV on Friday afternoon will forget his display against Ricky Walden in a hurry. Similarly, his various maximums and other moments of genius will live long when mere scores have been forgotten.
O’Sullivan makes people happy. He makes them want to watch snooker. He makes them want to come to snooker. He makes them want to be part of it.
He is a crowd pleaser, an entertainer. He is snooker’s biggest star by some distance.
His sabbatical last season seems to have done him good. It gave him a break from the sport he has been consumed by since boyhood but enough of a break to realise that he did miss it: not just playing but the people at tournaments, the banter and the buzz of being part of something special.
O’Sullivan also seems happy. He was with his children, Lily and Ronnie, plus many friends and supporters. He was great with the media and genuinely pleased to win a title he first secured 19 years ago when still a teenager.
We know from long experience of his life and career that things change and controversy sometimes invites itself in, like an irresistible force.
But perhaps the key to O’Sullivan’s continued success is his maturity. Tonight, he wasn’t off for an all-night party. He was taking his children home and then settling down to watch the TV. Whatever you think of Celebrity Big Brother, O’Sullivan has earned the right to indulge in this guilty pleasure.
1995 doesn’t seem that long ago but the boy has become a man, and one who has embraced stability rather than run from it. This perhaps makes him more dangerous than ever on the game’s biggest stages.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.