O'Sullivan rockets to fifth title in superb style
HOWEVER uneasily it lies, it is the head of Ronnie O'Sullivan that wears the crown once more.
If this was to be the last twirl of his tortured genius, then it was a fitting end – a fifth world championship, the first successful defence of the title for almost two decades, and his best win by far.
Victory against Barry Hawkins came by 18 frames to 12, following an epic tussle, thrilling in its brutality, breathtaking in its technical excellence.
This is the sport's showpiece. Its biggest occasion, its longest match and its stiffest test.
Gone are the days when 18.5 million people stayed up to watch Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor duking it out into the early hours. But these 30 frames, lasting just over seven hours, were a compelling advertisement for modern snooker, a game of nuance and nerve, of infinite angles and seemingly infinite skill.
Though it was O'Sullivan who took the laurels, Hawkins emerged with his reputation made. The 34-year-old from Kent is now a household name, and the match he played would probably have beaten any other player on tour.
What now for O'Sullivan? Nobody knows the answer to that question, least of all him. His year out of the game has restored a balance to his life that was missing. The work he has done with psychologist Steve Peters has given him back his sanity.
"Steve has been with me all the way," he said. "I don't think I would have won back-to-back titles without him. Every-one knows me. I am up and down like a whore's drawers."
Oh, Ronnie. Brilliant, mercurial Ronnie, with the filthy mind and the golden arm. For a man who has made his name challenging the realms of the possible, this not-so-subtle act of rebellion on live television probably summed him up better than the sublime snooker that he had just displayed.
"My main motive wasn't to come here and win it," he said. "It was just something to just keep me busy for the next six weeks."
Hawkins tried his damnedest. He missed little, concentrated hard and made the most of his opportunities. Just a few crucial errors ultimately decided his fate. But then again, if he had not made those errors, he would not have been Barry Hawkins.
He would have been Ronnie O'Sullivan, perhaps the greatest player ever to grace the Crucible carpet. Not a potting machine like Neil Robertson, or an entertainment machine like Judd Trump, but a creature of pure snooker, moving from red to colour to red to colour as seamlessly as you might switch from left foot to right when you walk.
"It's a shame I lost, but Ronnie's by far the best player in the world, so there is no shame in that," Hawkins said. "I tried my hardest. I'm glad I made a game of it and pushed him a bit."
They resumed at 2.30pm yesterday, with O'Sullivan 10-7 ahead. He extended his lead to 12-8 with a break of 55, winning the frame by a single point on the final black.
You can tell a good deal about a player's state of mind from how they behave in the chair. Almost uniquely among sports, there is an element of incarceration to snooker, the utter impotence that comes from being cast out of the game while your opponent beavers away merrily.
O'Sullivan treated his chair like a prison, staring up at the ceiling, down at his carpet, losing himself in reverie, staring bleakly into the long grass.
On the other hand, not a bead of emotion ever crossed the face of Hawkins.
You could have burned a family heirloom at his feet, and still he would have refused to flinch. It was the most remarkable display of focus and poise.
Whatever happened out there, Hawkins was giving nothing away.
He was giving little away when he got to the table, either, and made a break of 90 to reduce the gap to 12-9. But as if changing gear, O'Sullivan pulled away again.
The clearance of 124 that took his lead to 15-10 going into the evening session was quite the most wonderful thing: beginning with a double on the red, slowly untying the pink and black, deciphering the table like a cryptic crossword.
And so to the final frame, which began with a tense safety battle. Hawkins erred first, offering up a long red into the left corner.
It was clear O'Sullivan was wavering over the pot. A few seconds earlier, he had uncharacteristically rejected a black into the opposite corner in favour of playing a snooker behind it instead.
As the seconds ticked, you could see him trying to think of reasons to play safe. After a short while, he realised there were none. He crouched over the shot, steadied himself and sent the red rocketing into the back of the pocket.
It was the flourish of a true champion. Finally, as frame ball dropped, came the fist pump. Relief descended.
O'Sullivan's erratic frame of mind may prevent him from fully enjoying this triumph, but posterity will allow him to savour it. The rest of us certainly did. (© Daily Telegraph, London)