KEN Doherty believes that Ronnie O’Sullivan’s May Crucible final defeat to Mark Selby may carry the same symbolic impact as his victory over Stephen Hendry in 1997.
The 44-year-old Dubliner still reckons that O’Sullivan, who suffered a first-round exit in Shanghai this week, is the best player around when he is firing.
And Doherty does not believe that playing a lot more than he does, with Shanghai just a second appearance of the season, would necessarily sharpen up the Rocket’s game.
But the Irishman sees parallels between the two memorable finals, not least the hope offered to rivals who had begun to see Hendry in the 1990s and O’Sullivan recently as almost invincible in Sheffield.
Doherty, preparing to take on Selby in Shanghai, said: “For Mark Selby to win a first world title was very important for him, a real milestone personally and the fulfilment of a dream.
“But I do think also it has had a wider impact on the pack chasing Ronnie O’Sullivan. They know he is not invincible at the Crucible any more.
“Because it was getting that way, winning it back to back, the first time after a year off and then again after 10 or so events. He was playing as well as he ever had, if not better.
“He was definitely getting to that invincibility stage that Stephen Hendry had reached when I beat him in 1997.
“He was pretty much unbeatable at that time, had won five world titles in a row and was going for six. But when I beat him the floodgates opened a bit.
“I think my win gave the rest hope at that time, and the likes of Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy will be thinking the same now.
“They have seen him completely lose it a bit in that final, and appear devoid of confidence. In all the time I have known Ronnie, I have never seen him lose like that in a long match.
“That is tough for Ronnie and he has to deal with that – but also it gives a big boost to the other players who have seen he can crack.
“I still think he is the best on form and especially over long distance. Even Mark Selby would admit that. But that final may have a significance beyond Selby winning a first world title.”
Doherty milked the fact he was the only player involved born in the 1960s in a good-humoured exchange with the Chinese media after beating wildcard Huang Jiahao at the Shanghai Masters.
And he suggested that for O’Sullivan the key to staying competitive as the five-time world champion moves towards his 40s is focusing on quality rather than quantity and making all playing and practise time count.
Doherty added: “It totally depends on your mindset and how you approach the issue of age as you get older in snooker, and how you accept it. Steve Davis did, Stephen Hendry didn’t.
“For Ronnie I would say to him you’re still the best but you are going to have off days and if you want to carry on playing you must accept that. If you can’t, it may finish you.
“You must accept that you can’t play as well as you did when you were younger, although some of the stuff Ronnie has played in the last three years has been sensational.
“Ronnie does put pressure on himself in a way playing in only a few events and expecting to do well – but I think that is right for him.
“I found that too as I got older. When you’re young you want to play in everything and you can. As you get older you have family and you want to make the best use of your time.
“In other sports they don’t play every week – certainly golf and tennis, they manage the schedule.
“Sometimes you would be better off taking a week off anyway, you come back feeling better, fresher and more motivated.
“And I realise that I wasted so much time when I was younger. Even if I was practising eight hours a day I wasn’t making the best use of that time, and could have done it in four hours.
“It was no good to me and as I got older I realised that. You spend a lot of time travelling and practising so conserving energy is important.
“And this is not just relevant for Ronnie – but for other players in a similar boat like John Higgins and Mark Williams.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos