IT IS something a lot of his rivals probably didn’t want to hear – but Ronnie O’Sullivan believes that he may actually be getting better.
The Rocket turns 39 in December – an age when long-time rival and now retired seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry was in decline.
But five-time Crucible king O’Sullivan was in breath-taking form in defending his Champion of Champions title in Coventry at the weekend, once again seeing a strategy of doing well in limited appearances pay handsome dividends.
Judd Trump forced the world No4 to produce his best – and O’Sullivan knocked in four centuries with other runs of 78, 50, 87, 80, 70, 70 and 63 in a 10-7 master-class success.
Even the notoriously self-critical O’Sullivan was left beaming and savouring the prospect of November’s UK Championship and January’s Masters.
Two-time world champion Mark Williams has claimed recently on Twitter that though O’Sullivan remains the best he “misses more balls than ever now…he is nowhere near getting better”.
But O’Sullivan said: “Judd was great in one of the best matches I have ever played in – and it takes a lot for me to say that, I am honest and that was a very high standard from both of us.
“He has won the Australian Open already this season and is coming back to form. It was just a great match to be involved in.
“And I think I am playing better than I ever have. The last three years I have played as well as I ever have, how I played against Judd was like I was playing when I was 15.
“I used to just bowl people over in my teens and this was against players like Peter Ebdon and Anthony Hamilton, good players, who were a bit older.
“Then when I started to say I wasn’t happy with my form people thought I was talking rubbish, but I wasn’t. It is this form I was desperate to recapture.
“I played exceptionally well to win the 2012 world title and the same in the final in 2013 against Barry Hawkins. Those don’t come along every day but it’s good to have them in the locker.
“I am cueing well again and if I can keep that going I will be happy.
“I should play more, I know that, but I can’t do that treadmill. And I will play where is atmosphere, a good venue, and a crowd and ideally where I can drive there apart from a couple in China.
“I still have doubts that playing as little as I do I can hit the heights, but nights like Sunday ease those fears. It shows I don’t need to play all the time, and that puts that demon to rest.”
And O’Sullivan also lavished plenty of praise on 2011 world championship runner-up Trump, 25 – who may well have beaten anyone else on Sunday.
O’Sullivan added: “Judd dragged that performance out of me. He could have folded at 8-3 down but he came back very strong. He came out fighting and I respect that.
“I did it against Stephen Hendry once, came back from 8-2 down to 8-8 and then he knocked a maximum in to win it 9-8. That was in my mind on Sunday.
“He played really well and is a great talent. Judd has got all the shots, his potting ability is unbelievable and he has such cue power and the fight.
“He doesn’t give in, and is a formidable opponent again and will be a handful for anyone from now on. He will pot balls and go for his shots.
“He is unconventional and plays the game like no one else and it can be difficult to work out how to play him, but you have to stick to your game and do what you do.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos