Victorious Rocket to ponder his future
An emotional Ronnie O'Sullivan last night won the World Championship for the fourth time -- his first since 2008 -- by easing to an 18-11 victory over his Essex neighbour Ali Carter.
"It's been very, very hard," he said of his victory as he held his young son -- Ronnie Jnr -- in his arms. "Anyone who comes here and stands at that table for 17 days, blimey it's the equivalent of doing the Iron Man."
In truth this was not the finest of finals. It lacked the ebb, flow and improbable comeback of the great nights at the Crucible.
But for O'Sullivan it was the sweetest of moments, a reminder of what he means to the sport he has long defined: the greatest natural talent ever to grace a table.
"I never thought I'd win it so he could see," he said of the four-year-old Ronnie. "Sharing the moment with him was the best. Having him here, it felt like it was just me and him in the arena."
With destiny beckoning, O'Sullivan did not look a man anxious to hang about. He began the second day of the final as if he wanted the evening off.
Already leading Carter 10-5 overnight, he quickly won the first three frames of the afternoon session, banging out a century break before his opponent had even left his chair. And then someone must have had a word. Hard as it might be to put the brakes on a runaway Rocket, the last thing those in charge wanted was to curtail operations just as the game was about to get its big television moment of the year: Ronnie on the telly on a depressing Bank Holiday Monday evening, bringing in the ratings, ensuring the sponsors get their money's worth of prime television coverage.
So O'Sullivan duly obliged, eased off the superchargers and let Carter win a couple of frames to drag what was threatening to be a non-match into its evening peak.
When he won his second frame, Carter spread his arms in ironic celebration. Once the white evening shirts were donned, O'Sullivan duly resumed control. The sight of him chalking his cue, leaning over the baize and smacking home a black remains one of the great visions of sport.
How much longer he will be around has been the question that has worried snooker ever since he first threatened retirement aged but 18. To the game's great relief at 36, he remains at the table, the oldest winner since Ray Reardon took the crown aged 45 in 1978.
"Blimey, am I?" he said. "I don't feel old but when you put it like that!" Yet there is barely a fleck of grey in his sideboards. Alex Higgins once said that a great cueman plays from the hips; Higgins himself was compared in his prime to a ballet dancer such was his lightness of foot. O'Sullivan is the same, his feet barely flicked the red carpet as he moved between shots. He potted with the power and thrust of a 19-year-old.
And against Carter he was ruthless in his control. His mere presence seemed sufficient to make even a competitor as steely minded as Carter wilt.
Missing four reds in first three frames, the young pretender skewed a simple yellow in mid-afternoon that might have brought him temporary respite.
The disappointed communal "ooh" -- a noise familiar to any Briton who has served long at Wimbledon -- soundtracked much of his day.
For O'Sullivan, the noise was much more uplifting: the sweet melody of success. So happy was he, he didn't even mention retirement.
"Nah, I'm not making any decisions. I'll take six months off and see what happens at the end of that," he said. "For now, my family is my priority."
Snooker will be hoping he is back next season to defend his crown. After seeing Stephen Hendry give up this year, it can ill afford to lose what is now undeniably its grandest name: Ronnie O'Sullivan, four-time world champion. (© Daily Telegraph, London)