In the end it was less a coronation than a dash for the winning line but this made victory for Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Dafabet Champion of Champions even more satisfying.
To see him pump his fist at the moment of victory and celebrate with such abandon afterwards was heartening to those of us who’ve seen him virtually emotionless in the aftermath of victories.
O’Sullivan seems to have finally found an even keel. This is good news for him but bad news for his rivals. It makes him more dangerous than ever.
His 10-7 victory over Judd Trump at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry was hard earned. It featured some breath-taking snooker, from O’Sullivan at first and, from 8-3 down, in four inspirational frames from Trump.
Anyone who thinks top players don’t contribute the lion’s share of the interest that snooker generates should be forced to sit down and watch the final back. This is what keeps the public coming back for more.
Trump could have made it 8-8 when able to force a re-spot in frame 16 but went in-off the green. In the last, he came close to knocking in a long red. This proved his last shot. That was what today was like.
When is O’Sullivan going to decline? There is no immediate sign of any facet of his game seriously deteriorating and, of course, he has further to fall than most. Even a 10% deterioration would see him beating 99% of the tour.
He is, quite simply, a very special sportsman. Much has been made of his background but he had the advantage of practising on full sized table in his family home from the age of eight, often against top amateurs and some professionals. All this hard work, allied to a natural instinct for snooker, put him in good stead for when he turned professional but you only win major titles if you have the temperament – if you can stand on the biggest stages and not fall apart.
O’Sullivan is such a man. Naturally charismatic, he has the self-belief and the nerve to stand up to the intense pressures of big match snooker.
He’s also had major wobbles, all of which have been documented at length, but there’s no doubt that his alliance with Dr Steve Peters has vastly improved his mental toughness and this calmness of character has in turn helped his snooker.
O’Sullivan thrives when and where it matters, tournaments such as the Champion of Champions and the Masters, the one-table set up at the Crucible or finals in general. There are more tournaments now than ever but fewer invitation events than there used to be – no Irish or Scottish Masters for instance.
Tournaments full of players and tables may be harder for the likes of O’Sullivan to gain focus because rather than being centre stage, he is one of the pack, though he has won his fair share of these events too.
The bottom line is, he’s an exceptional snooker player, a total one-off. Trump has long been earmarked as a player who could inherit his crowd-pleasing mantle and emulate some of his achievements. He was quite right to take the positives from the match. He did very little wrong to be 8-3 down and did everything right to make it 8-7.
When he did make a mistake he got punished, brutally at times. Overall he is cueing well and certainly enjoying a better season than the 2013/14 campaign. He demonstrated a great attitude in not accepting defeat and closing from 8-3 to 8-7.
O’Sullivan, though, remains a snooker colossus. He won his first major title 21 years ago and is still playing sublimely at times. He is 39 next month but his running regime has helped him stay fitter than many of his younger rivals.
He was once a rebel but is now a role model. Young players should look up to Ronnie O’Sullivan, not just because of the inspirational way he can play but for the manner in which he has clawed himself out of a pit of demons and found an equilibrium.
Though not entirely blameless by any means, this is a man who has been through a lot of turmoil in his life, who has at times found life in the spotlight to be the loneliest place in the world, but who has emerged as someone who seems capable of continuing at the top level for several years to come.
He left Coventry tonight all smiles, having proven once again just why he remains the game’s leading box office attraction - and the man to beat on the big occasion.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.