IT’S RONNIE O’SULLIVAN’s birthday today and could well turn into a celebratory weekend for snooker’s biggest box office star judging by his exploits in York last night.

O’Sullivan is now 39. The decline that has come to every other leading player at this age has not come to him. He looks as assured and in control of his game as he did when he first won the UK Championship at the age of 17.

O’Sullivan broke down on 89 trying for a 147 break in the fifth frame against Matt Selt last night. No problem – he popped in a maximum in the next to complete a whitewash.

It was O’Sullivan’s 13th 147 and is worth £44,000 if not equalled. It brought the house down at the Barbican and underlined the skill, nerve and temperament on the big stage the man possesses.

You need several component parts to be able to play any sport to the highest level. First you need talent. That’s obvious – a natural instinct to be able to play the game.

Next you need dedication. All the hours – years – of practising goes unseen by the general public. And O’Sullivan has done this from boyhood, which is why he once said he didn’t like being called a genius. It suggested he hadn’t put the work in.

What you also need is the head to produce the goods. O’Sullivan’s mental focus is better now than at any time in his career. He is the master of the big occasion, revelling in the atmosphere when so many others shrink from it.

His latest maximum break was completed with panache and style, a couple of audacious pots and positional shots thrown in for good measure. He was already celebrating before he potted the final black. As birthday presents to yourself go, it’ll take some topping.

So O’Sullivan is in good shape to win his fifth UK Championship title and first in seven years. His ankle injury and all the fuss about possible withdrawal now seems a distant memory.

It has helped that he’s been put under little pressure by any of his opponents. Selt’s challenge wilted early on despite several chances in the opening frame. The gulf in class was obvious.

Someone has to step up and take the game to O’Sullivan to stop him winning the title. But this isn’t his problem. He will mind his own business, play his own way and leave the worrying to his rivals.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is entering his 40th year. It’s been a life and career of emotional highs and lows, an ever twisting series of peaks and troughs, glories and controversies.

But he’s still here, doing what he does. He knows that at his best he is the best. And he knows he can prove it again this weekend.


Photographs by Monique Limbos.