YOU wait around for a decade for Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy and Matthew Stevens to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan and then like buses the victories all come at once.
The Rocket crashed out of the BetVictor Welsh Open on Wednesday afternoon, going down 4-3 to home favourite Stevens after leading 2-0 and blowing chances both to lead 3-0, and then close things out at 3-2 up by missing a simple yellow.
After losing at the last-32 stage at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, which he had variously described as a car boot sale, aircraft hangar and shopping mall, O’Sullivan’s Crucible build-up will now be the quick-fire Shootout, the World Grand Prix and the China Open.
And he probably won’t dwell for too long on a tournament where he never looked settled at any point in the defence of the title won so magnificently with a 147 12 months before.
Stevens, who last beat O’Sullivan at the LG Cup in Preston in 2003, did not go overboard in his celebration and in his post-match comments. Perhaps he knew he had been let off the hook.
But he did become the latest player to shrug off an O’Sullivan career head-to-head stranglehold.
In October at the International Championship in Chengdu Mark Williams ended a 12-year winless run against O’Sullivan with a 6-5 victory. He had not beaten him since the Thailand Masters in 2002.
And then in Berlin at the German Masters Murphy edged out O’Sullivan 5-4 for his ever ranking tournament win over the man who had so often proved his nemesis.
Does this mean O’Sullivan’s aura is gone for good? Of course it doesn’t. Ask any of those players mentioned who is the best, and you’ll almost certainly get the same answer. You can’t kid a pro, and they will never lose respect for a player that has mastered them s often and for so long.
As Stevens quite correctly pointed out afterwards, O’Sullivan is a lot of people’s bogeyman in much the same way as another Roger Federer would be in tennis. No disgrace there.
But the fact that three such records have fallen in such quick succession is notable and has registered with the other players.
It certainly hasn’t been lost on O’Sullivan himself, and it was an answer to a question on the subject that drew a four-letter response. Nothing too serious, but it may well mean another donation to the World Snooker Bluebell Wood charity fines fund.
“That’s another one that has beaten me after a long time, f**k it, I’m bang in trouble – f**king hell, I’ve got no chance,” said O’Sullivan.
“Matthew played a good game and deserved his win. He has had a lean few years, he’s a great player and has underachieved really – he was playing at home in Wales and in Cardiff. Credit to him and I say well done, unfortunate for me but that’s snooker. You win some and you lose some.”
After reaching the last 16 Stevens, 37, said: “It wasn’t a high quality match but I don’t really care. I hadn’t beaten Ronnie for so many years so I’ll take any win.
“I don’t remember the last time I beat him. He’s a bit like Roger Federer in tennis; not many people have good records against him.
“I think I was about the same age as my son Freddie, who is here today, when I last beat him.
“When I first turned pro at 19 or 20 I think I had the upper hand against him but for the past 12 years he’s beaten me every time.
“He missed an easy yellow – what with Mark [Williams] and Shaun [Murphy] I think he must feel sorry for us!”
Photograph by Monique Limbos