Ronnie O’Sullivan still blazing snooker trail for others to follow

When it comes to personality there are few bigger characters in English sport than Ronnie O’Sullivan.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: Ronnie O'Sullivan remains the leading figure in the game with 37 ranking titles to his name. Picture: Nigel French/PA

Adjectives like colourful and flamboyant have been mixed with controversial and forthright ever since he turned professional in 1992.

So one of the better snooker stories to emerge from a miserable 2020 – where Covid-19 decimated the sporting calendar – was the inclusion of the six-time world champion on the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

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Not since Stephen Hendry finished second in 1990 has a snooker player been nominated for the annual prize, while six-time winner Steve Davis scooped the crown in 1988.

RIVAL: World No 1, Judd Trump. Picture: John Walton/PA

Lewis Hamilton won the award last month after claiming his seventh Formula 1 world title with Liverpool footballer Jordan Henderson and jockey Hollie Doyle finished second and third.

Boxer Tyson Fury and cricketer Stuart Broad were the other names on the shortlist and O’Sullivan, who will shoot for a 21st Triple Crown title at next week’s Masters, hopes his long-overdue recognition can blaze a trail for change.

“It was good to watch the show unravel, unfold and the suspense of it all,” said the 45-year-old.

“‘Am I going to get an award or not?’ That was all quite fun. I obviously just enjoyed watching it and being part of it was good, even though I never got in the top three.

Ding Junhui will play Ronnie O'Sullivan in the opening round of The Masters on Wednesday. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

“It was good fun and all these years since a snooker player has been nominated, hopefully it’s not another however many years before another snooker player gets nominated.

“Hopefully, it’s changed the trend and other players might get a sniff now.

“It stops people saying ‘it’s a liberty Ronnie’s not been in.’ At least that’s out of the way now and people say ‘at least I’ve got on the nominations.’ Hopefully that won’t carry on now. It was good just to be part of it.

“Hopefully, it changes that perception (of snooker) where people think ‘they’ve had a snooker player in now, so why not have another snooker player in next year?’ Hopefully it allows people to see snooker as one of those sports that should be nominated.”

IN THE MIX: Ronnie O'Sullivan ended a long wait for snooker when making it on the final six-strong shortlist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year in December. Picture: Nigel French/PA

Next year will mark 30 years on the circuit for the 45-year-old, and O’Sullivan shows no sign of fading away just yet after claiming his sixth World Championship at the Crucible Theatre last summer.

His 20 Triple Crown titles – seven Masters, seven UK Championships and six World Championships – are a record which will be hard to beat, and he will bid to equal Hendry’s seven Crucible crowns in Sheffield this year. But, O’Sullivan’s immediate focus turns to the Masters and ending a mini drought when it comes to silverware.

Since his Crucible success in August, the Essex potter has failed to add another trophy to his account – with Judd Trump, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson sharing the bulk of the titles.

The world No 3, who will face 2011 champion Ding Junhui in the first round on Wednesday, said: “I haven’t yet won a tournament since the World Championship. I’ve had a couple of finals which I’m happy with, a semi-final, but I haven’t won a trophy.

“I think those three (Trump, Robertson and Selby) have dominated the season so far, so I’d like to win a bit of silverware at some point. I’d take any tournament – I’ve always been greedy in that sort of sense.

“Obviously, the majors (World Championship, UK Championship and Masters) are great to win but sometimes it’s just nice to just get a ‘W’.

“Even with the Premier League tournaments I won – I could never say after winning a tournament I’ve not enjoyed it. Obviously the Worlds, the Masters and the UK are a bit more special, but a win’s a win, sometimes. I think I’ve got another three years, maximum, playing on the tour, so I want to enjoy it as much as I can before I decide to maybe move on to play at a different level on a different platform.”

The Masters, which cues off tomorrow, was due to host 1,000 fans per session at Alexandra Palace but will now be held behind closed doors in Milton Keynes as coronavirus cases continue to soar throughout the country.

That means every tournament this season continues to be held at the Covid-secure Marshall Arena, based on a retail park and with players forced to comply with strict coronavirus restrictions on-site.

O’Sullivan will miss the atmospheric ‘Ally Pally’ buzz and admits he’s ready for a change of scene from the monotony of the Buckinghamshire baize.

“Obviously it would have been nice to have a crowd,” he added.

“It’s nice to just go to different places – it’s just the same setup every day (in Milton Keynes).

“You’re just on a retail park – there isn’t a nice city centre or village to go and relax and unwind in. You have a Marks (and Spencer), a Nando’s, a Wagamama and that’s it! And there’s a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a McDonald’s. After a while you get a bit fed up with that.”

World No 1 Trump – the most likely to replace O’Sullivan as snooker’s poster boy – will be the man to beat at the Masters.

The Bristol cueman has already won the English Open, Northern Ireland Open and World Grand Prix this season, to move to 20 ranking titles – but still way short of O’Sullivan’s record haul of 37. Trump faces world No13 David Gilbert in the first round tomorrow.

But O’Sullivan said: “With the amount of tournaments that are around today, I think (Judd’s) got to be looking at 60 to 70 ranking event titles.

“When Hendry was doing it and I was doing it, we might have played 10 ranking events, but I think Judd is playing 20 ranking events (a season).

“If Hendry did 36 ranking events and I did 37, you’d probably have to say he’s got to be looking to at least make 60 or 65. If he was to get to 70 or 75 then pro rata, you’d have to say that’s the greatest record of all-time.

“You can only go on averages now, because there are so many more ranking events than there were before.

“If you’ve only got 10 ranking events to play, if you won two or three, that was good. Now, if you’ve got 20, the new two and three is probably four, five and six ranking events in a year.

“The only thing in snooker that’s constant are the three majors. You’d probably want to be looking at getting to maybe (Steve) Davis’s level, or Hendry’s – 15, 16, 17, 18 majors. Obviously, the icing on the cake would be to beat my record of 20, which he’s capable of.”

Watch the London Masters live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from Jan 10

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