Ronnie O’Sullivan, who jetted in to Berlin to take up German Masters TV studio duties on Friday night, caused a stir this week with some strong views about the world championship format.
So let’s have a quick recap of what O’Sullivan actually said, before taking in some alternative player views and then hearing from the man that really matters on the subject – World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn, who has the power to make such things happen or quietly disappear.
O’Sullivan is a huge fan of the Masters format, and also by his own admission no lover of the 17 days a player must spend in Sheffield to win a world championship – this despite the fact he has managed it five times, including in the past four seasons two titles and one further Crucible final.
A combination of these two factors led him to call for radical change in the format of the blue-riband event, primarily slashing the number of days over which it is played by cutting the match distances. Currently these, of course, stand at best-of-19, two best-of-25s, a best-of-33 semi-final and a best-of-35 final.
He said: “I am not really looking forward to playing at Sheffield to be honest. For me it goes on far too long, and I am not sure yet how I will approach that tournament. It is a very long time, longer than the Olympics for 32 players as people know.
“First and foremost it is a lot of table time. You have a best of 19 frame match, two best of 25s, a best of 33 and a best of 35 to win.
“The final is over two long days of four sessions, and the semi-finals over three days. The darts World Championship final is over in two and a half hours.
“I honestly think the world final could be played over the best of 17 frames, first to nine, and have it all done in one day.
“Who needs to play a best-of-25 frame match in the last 16, or one opponent over three days in the semis or even earlier rounds?
“I don’t like it, even though I have won it five times it is my worst tournament over 17 days, it goes on and on and on.
“And every time I have own it I have felt a huge sense of relief, and just been glad it was over rather than pure joy. The Masters is the perfect tournament, that’s the model for all the big events.
“The worlds could be best of 11s, maybe best of 13s for the semis and best of 17 for the final. That is plenty, more than enough.
“For me it is about enjoying playing now, and Sheffield is one of the events I least like playing in – but of course it is our world championship.
“I would enjoy it more going on a tour of Asia or something. I’m sure I won’t and will be there, but that’s how I really feel and don’t look forward to it. That said, it is what it is and you have to get on with it while it has this format.”
The story provoked some fairly predictable howls of derision from the die-hards, and some interesting input from players – hardly any of whom agreed with O’Sullivan.
Just as examples Jimmy White, a close friend of the Rocket and a six-time Crucible runner-up, said: “I don’t think the best player would emerge winning it if you had best-of-11 frame matches. It should stay as it is.”
Former world champion Neil Robertson was also against any radical reform, but did see scope for some minor tweaking of the semi-finals and final, currently played over a total of 12 sessions and five days. This, he felt, could be reduced perhaps trimming a couple of days of the event while still providing a stern test and producing a worthy winner.
The Australian said: “I really like the best-of-25s, they throw up some great games over a distance we don’t get to play. So I would leave it as it is up to the semi-finals, but make them best-of-25 too, and then the final best-of-29, or first to 15. That would be fine.
“As a whole it does go on a bit too long, maybe at the expenses of quality. I would also like to see a bigger break between the semis and the final. I do think there is a problem with the semi-finals and the final, you can get to the final exhausted and it just isn’t necessary for it to be that long.”
So realistically what are the prospects for any alteration in the short or medium term? Speaking to Hearn, it would appear virtually none with the supremo minded to preserve the tournament’s unique appeal.
He said: “It is our job to run the sport for all and not for individual players, and do what we think is right. We can’t change formats based on one player’s wishes.
“Some boxers like four-round fights and not championship 12-round contests, they run out of steam. Some tennis players would rather if Wimbledon was one set and not best of five.
“But this isn’t a punch-up in a telephone box, and it is a marathon not a sprint, and that is part of the event’s unique appeal. I will always listen to Ronnie, but that is the position.
“We constantly review tournament formats but the mood at this moment is that it isn’t broken and there is nothing to fix.
“The world championship is the supreme test not just of skill but of endurance and concentration. The longer the slog, the all-round best player emerges victorious.
“It is important that the world championship is set aside from normal events.
“The appeal of the world championship is based on a very difficult format which won’t appeal to everyone, maybe that includes Ronnie although he hasn’t done too badly there.
“I am not saying it can’t ever be tweaked slightly but overall we are happy. It is the ultimate test and for the moment that is exactly how it will stay.
“There were changes to the UK Championship and a lot of hard-core traditionalists found that upsetting. That one was responding to broadcaster needs, but the BBC are happy.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos