The term living room would probably be a bit exaggerated for a place that is 9200 kilometers as the crow flies from his snooker club in the county of Suffolk. But there seems to be something Ronnie O'Sullivan likes about Shanghai. When the Masters of the world's elite of the Main Tour takes place in the southern Chinese metropolis, the otherwise not very travel-loving billiard crack is on hand - whether it is a ranking tournament or, as last week, just a highly endowed invitation tournament. And since 2017, the seven-time world champion has been able to prevent a competitor from winning in the end by simply winning each of his matches there.
However, O'Sullivan's regiment seems longer than it actually is, because the People's Republic of China has refrained from tournaments of this kind in three Corona years (2020 -22). Nevertheless, it was extended late on Sunday evening Chinese time for the 19th win in the 19th game since 2017 as well as for the fifth triumph overall, the last four of them in a row. Only this time it had less to do with a dreamlike safe style of play, but with arduous work and board-hard resilience. Because if such an ingeniously inclined artist as O'Sullivan doesn't play at his best, he has to be able to work properly. So he has to be Salieri, not Mozart, in order to somehow assert himself at the green table.
Small, sometimes blatant mistakes
This time there was probably no match in the Grand Stage of this spacious indoor arena for up to 14,500 spectators in which the defending champion could satisfy himself. Again and again, small, sometimes blatant mistakes in positional and hole play slowed down his presentation at the green table when he seemed to be picking up speed. So he was experienced with an unusually gloomy expression, although never resigned to well-known opponents, whom he defeated in the end with abrupt increases in form: Four victorious frames (games) in a row, and the quarterfinals against John Higgins was turned from 2: 5 to 6: 5; another four victorious frames in a row, and Mark Selby was eliminated in the semifinals with 10:7.
These were not successes that became apparent early on, not even for himself. Basically, he had been looking in vain for top form for a year and a half, the now 47-year-old Briton had even said between the games. And he made a strange-sounding wish: Actually, a defeat in which he still feels comfortable in his skin is more precious to him in this phase than any victory that causes an uncomfortable feeling. But he was not redeemed in the same sense on Sunday, in the final against Luca Brecel. At the end of a high-class, but similarly changeable duel, which ended 11:9, he slipped out another "silly" victory.
In the prestigious duel between the number one (O'Sullivan) and the number two in the world rankings, it was rather the Belgian, who was 19 years younger, who presented the larger series at the table. On the other hand, O'Sullivan, also known as "The Rocket", often scored with smaller margins when it was decisive. On the one hand, this secured him the equivalent of around 244,000 euros in prize money and, on the other hand, stifled a delicate discussion. Otherwise, some would have spoken of a generational change that was in the offing in the noble sport – after the "Belgian Bullet" was able to throw the "Top Dog" out of the World Cup tournament in Sheffield in the quarter-finals in May.
Still being there, holding the prominent position: Perhaps this is the real fun these days for the widely praised professional, who supposedly no longer enjoys the game. When a representative of the Shanghai Bank handed him the enlarged duplicate of his cashier's check, he grinned so mischievously into the TV camera as if he had just pulled a prank. How much of the self-disclosures about his inner states is true and how much is a strange kind of coquetry will probably never be clarified anyway. But who expected that from a notorious Enigma?
Perhaps Luca Brecel, with his attacking game, can become the next professional to set the tone on the Main Tour in the foreseeable future – similar to Judd Trump's success years ago. But O'Sullivan is still the biggest factor, and that's not the worst news for the World Snooker Tour at the beginning of the young snooker season. The global premium series is reluctant to miss out on the potential of the Chinese TV market. This requires familiar faces – also as a substitute for local hopefuls, many of whom were banned at the beginning of the year for match-fixing for betting fraud. Shanghai apparently needs Ronnie O'Sullivan as much as Ronnie O'Sullivan needs Shanghai.