RONNIE O’Sullivan believes that his 23-year, three-way rivalry with John Higgins and Mark Williams has spurred all of them on to greater achievements.
O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams all turned professional in 1992 in what turned out to be a golden summer for snooker.
On Tuesday morning of the week one at the Crucible all three were still gunning for glory at the Betfred World Championship having left some slim silverware pickings for the rest.
In 23 seasons the trio have racked up 11 world titles, 71 major ranking titles, 9 Masters crowns and a grand total of 126 trophies.
And the Rocket, favourite to win a sixth crown in Sheffield this year, says like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis they have brought the best from each other.
World No2 O’Sullivan, 39, was preparing to take on Crucible debutant Craig Steadman on Tuesday afternoon.
He said: “It is special to see myself, John and Mark Williams still all in the top 16 and all back at the Crucible as seeds, with Mark having missed out last year.
“We all turned pro the same summer and I have some great memories of that time and the qualifiers in Blackpool.
“We have won a lot of titles between the three of us, I think it is probably 70-odd ranking titles and maybe 10 or so Masters titles. That is a big chunk of what was out there to win.
“And it made for some unbelievable rivalries at different times during that period. I feel we have been a bit like Djokovic, Federer and Nadal, all pushing each other.
“Even now you have John saying he would love to equal me on five world titles. We have all spurred each other one, and contributed to each other’s success.
“It’s great we are all there at the Crucible, all the old boys still doing it on the big stage.
“Mark Williams was first to turn 40 but he has been playing really well this season. I watched him play Mark Selby out in Thailand, he took him out in a really good game.
“With John Higgins, I watched him over the past couple of years I found it hard to understand how he was struggling, or how he wasn’t winning.
“He is a class act and just plays the game the right way. He always plays the right shot – obviously we all have to execute the shot as well and when confidence is low you can miss.
“But playing the right shot in the first place is a sign of a player’s true ability.
“Can he win another world title? I think with John it is all about how much he wants it, how much he is prepared to go through and give of himself to get there.
“The signs look better than in the last couple of years. But I have not seen anyone dig much deeper than he did when he beat Selby in the final at the Crucible.
“That is what you have to do, and you’ll only see that in the long matches against other top players.
“One thing is for certain, you can’t question John’s game or his ability.
“As you get older things do become more difficult, you don’t bounce back as quickly as you did when you were 25, and John saw that over a tough couple of years.
“It will be difficult for John Higgins or Mark Williams to win another world title, and maybe not even likely – but it is certainly possible.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos