Ronnie O’Sullivan: The 10 greatest moments of a genius’ career

1. The fastest 147 ever

The 147 is the ultimate achievement in snooker. This is the maximum score (excluding penalties from the opponent) that a player can sign in a single break. The feat is extremely rare. Ronnie O’Sullivan holds the record. He signed 15. But on April 21, 1997, he didn’t score a 147. He scored THE 147. One of the most extravagant moments in snooker history and arguably the grandest of his career, which more is during the World Championship.

That day, against Mick Price, “The Rocket” justifies his nickname more than ever by achieving the perfect break in record time: 5 minutes and 8 seconds, almost two minutes less than the previous record. A revolution à la Usain Bolt, who did a lot for the legend of Ronnie O’Sullivan, then 21 years old. Those five minutes transcend snooker. There is something fascinating about the speed, the fluidity and almost the ease with which the Englishman builds his station wagon. Incidentally, he brought in 147,000 pounds for friend Ronnie.

World Championship

Great art: Trump at his best on this long pot


5 minutes, 8 seconds: 25 years ago, Ronnie O’Sullivan signed the fastest 147 in history

2. The UK Championship at 17

Along with the World Championship and the Masters, the UK Championship makes up the Triple Crown of snooker, the equivalent of the Grand Slam in tennis. During the 1993 edition, at 17 years and 358 days, O’Sullivan won the final of the UK Championship by beating the untouchable Stephen Hendry, then at the height of his omnipotence. He then became the youngest winner of a tournament of this magnitude and even of any ranked tournament and almost thirty years later, he still is.

Its legend originates here. While snooker had slowly taken a downward slope after the golden age of the mid-80s, the advent of this gifted teenager captured the imagination of the British public. His technique, his audacity and his confidence amaze everyone, especially against the monster that was Stephen Hendry. During this final, Ronnie accumulates two centuries and seven other breaks of more than 50 to write his first big page. It is still one of the most famous to this day.

3. The world double despite a one-year break

This is perhaps the greatest testimony to the extraordinary side of this champion. The thing is well documented, the native of Wordlsey has known very highs and very lows in his career, because it has been so in his life as a man. In May 2012, O’Sullivan won his fourth world title at the Crucible Theater in Sheffield. Then he decides to move away from snooker. He did not play a single ranked tournament the following season.

But in the spring of 2013, as defending champion, he still decided to go to the World Championship. He announces it alongside Jimmy White during a press conference intended to promote… a brand of vodka. So Ronnie. So here he is at the Crucible. He brushes aside all his opponents, including Trump in the semi-finals, then flies over the final against Barry Hawkins. The feat is prodigious. Only four players have managed to keep their crown in the modern era: Hendry, Davis, Selby and O’Sullivan. But he did it without having played between his two victories.

4. The 1000th century

Even if he denies it, Ronnie O’Sullivan has always had a theatrical side. He likes big scenes and symbols. When, in 2019, he became the first player to reach the mythical bar of 1000 centuries (break of at least 100 points) in his career, he did not do it just anytime and not anywhere: at the Players Championship, in the final against Neil Robertson, and on the very last frame, the one that will give him the title. It was at the Guide Hall in Preston. Where, 26 years earlier, he had won the UK Championship to start his legend.

Three years later, O’Sullivan totals 1163 centuries. No one has yet reached the 900 mark behind him, although John Higgins is very close. Judd Trump is almost guaranteed to top 1,000. He’s third on the list at 849 but he’s also much younger. The fact remains that, forever, “The Rocket” will remain the first to have reached the promised land. With manner, therefore, as a bonus, until changing hands for the century ball. Straight out Ronnie.

5. Liberation at the Crucible

With hindsight, the thing can make you smile, but when the third millennium arrives, Ronnie O’Sullivan drags behind him a label, not of loser, the term would be too coarse, but of “underachiever”. The gifted type, a genius, even, but whose track record is not in line with the staggering potential. He is 25 years old and still has time, but in the world of snooker this little music resonates louder and louder.

This is all the more true as his two friends from the 1992 Class, John Higgins and Mark Williams, have themselves become world champions. Higgins in 1998, Williams in 2000. For the Englishman, it’s a small slap. Will O’Sullivan be a new Jimmy White, six-time Crucible finalist but never crowned? “Jimmy’s curse was on my mind, yeah“, he will admit later, once relieved of this weight. Because in 2001, “The Rocket” finally hits the bull’s eye by being titled for the first time. A relief as much as a consecration. Five other crowns have followed since.

6. “There are six pockets on the table!”

Before reaching 1000 centuries, Ronnie O’Sullivan first had to appropriate the record, held for years by Stephen Hendry. The historic transfer of power takes place during the first round of the Masters against Ricky Walden, definitely still on the right track (see below). Even though it’s a first round, everyone’s eyes are on this game. Ron Wood, the Stones guitarist and friend of O’Sullivan, is in the stands to see him equal the centuries record, set at 775.

We are January 13, 2015. Not a trivial day since it is Stephen Hendry’s birthday. The latter, as a bonus, is in the comments on the BBC, alongside John Virgo. Hendry will therefore have a front row seat to this page of history.

Ronnie is 89 points in his break. He needs the yellow, the green, the brown then the blue to reach the century. But the mission seems impossible. The yellow and the green are glued to the tape. Only solution, try to “fluker” the yellow by taking out an improbable blow. Which he will do, in four stripes, prompting perhaps the most famous comment in snooker history: “There are six pockets on the table, you never know, there are six pockets on the table!” yells John Virgo as the yellow runs into the center pocket.

As a bonus, “The Rocket” has repositioned itself on the green. He tucks it in, then the brown one and finally the blue one to complete his century. “Happy birthday Steve!” then launches Virgo to his friend at the microphone, who cannot help laughing. The room is delirious. Really, O’Sullivan has always had a knack for dramatizing, in the good sense of the word, the great pages of his career.

7. The Butcher vs. Walden

The Masters, always. Ricky Walden again. One year earlier. For one of the most fabulous demonstrations of all time. Walden signs a break of 38 points at the start of the first frame and scores 39 of the first 40 points. For him, it’s over. He will not pocket a single ball until the end of the game. Ronnie O’Sullivan then aligns 556 points, unheard of. More Rocket than ever, the Essex genius needs just 57 minutes and 49 seconds to win this quarter-final, six sets to nil.

Less than an hour for six frames. Delirium. For comparison, to give an idea, last Saturday at the Crucible, Mark Selby and Yan Bingtao needed 85 minutes for a single frame. “Didn’t feel unplayable, but for sure felt like I was in control“, he says in a sacred understatement. Former world champion Ken Doherty, on the microphone that day for the BBC, cannot believe it: “This is probably the most extraordinary performance I have seen in my life..”

8. Again N°1 at 46 years old

After having been a phenomenon of precocity, Ronnie O’Sullivan has become a model of longevity. At the beginning of April 2022, he settled into the top spot in the world rankings again, at over 46 years old. That he is still competitive at this age, why not, others are too, starting with his comrades from the promotion of 1992 Mark Williams and John Higgins. But that he still has the consistency required to reach the top of the hierarchy is quite incredible.

Steve Davis has not won a single ranked tournament after 37 years. Stephen Hendry was flushed at 36. But not him. He was able to find a new direction in his career and adapt his game. It retains an adventurous side and O’Sullivan remains one of the most aggressive players, but he now has a more methodical approach. He had already become the oldest number one when he returned to the throne in March 2019, nine years after falling from it. For many, it was the last. But he’s back on top, even if he could lose his place at the end of the World Championship (he has to win to stay No. 1).

9. The first Masters

It was another time. When Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, both 19, faced off in the Masters final at the very beginning of 1995, Eric Cantona had just put the most famous “kick” in football history to a supporter of Crystal Palace, Blur and Oasis are battling in the British charts and the Masters is sponsored by a famous brand of cigarettes. What an era.

The final will be quite disappointing from the point of view of the game, without the slightest century. Without suspense, too. Ronnie O’Sullivan outclasses Higgins (9-3). But after becoming the youngest winner in the history of a ranked tournament, the Englishman is now the youngest winner in Masters history. It was the start of a great love story with this tournament, which he won seven times in total. A record, of course.

10. Sabotage of 146

Welsh Open, 2016. The Rocket are about to slam a new 147. They only have two reds left to pocket, their position at the table is favorable. But he has a question: what is the bonus provided at the Welsh Open in the event of a maximum break? 10,000 pounds, he was told. Not really impressed, frankly disappointed, even, O’Sullivan decides to scuttle. After the penultimate red, he chooses to return the rose, for six points, rather than the black for seven. Then he dries up the table and ends with a break of 146.

The public is dumbfounded. Rather happy with his effect and even proud of his sabotage, he drew the wrath of Barry Hearn, the president of World Snooker (the international federation), who described his attitude as “disrespectful“.”I’m sorry but 10000, I found that a bit cheap“, he will say. Why choose this sequence in this list? Because it is also that, Ronnie O’Sullivan. A dirty kid side at times, but a hell of a character who always wants to be free to act and to think as he sees fit, even if it means displeasing. But between us, which other player can claim to have signed a more famous 146 than the vast majority of 147s? Sacred Ronnie.

World Championship

Trump signs the first century of the semi-final


World Championship

And two centuries for O’Sullivan, much to the delight of the Crucible


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