The most exciting thing about top-level sport is seeing two of the very best push each other to heights they never thought they could reach. It happened in tennis with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, in athletics with Seb Coe and
Steve Ovett, in cycling with Victoria Pendleton and Anna Meares, in boxing with Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and this year in motor racing with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with the former admitting it made him focus and prepare for the season as never before.
Add to that list Ronnie ‘The Rocket’ O’Sullivan and Judd Trump, the two rock stars of snooker. Ronnie has always had the hangdog look of a man who would rather be good at anything other than hitting coloured balls with a wooden stick but he is so talented he can win on one leg, as he had to over the last week at the UK Championships. Wearing flat bowling style shoes to give some relief to his broken ankle, he hobbled around and cleaned up again.
Mind you, nothing is ever predictable with The Rocket. He can go from a perfect 147 break to hopping the cue ball
clean off the table. He can be out of contention in a match, as he was in the semi-final, to winning in style. He can be
in total control, as he was at 5-1 and then at 9-4 in the final, to looking as if he’s blown it.
Credit to Judd Trump, who rates O’Sullivan as his inspiration and hero, for playing sensational snooker for five frames to bring it back to nine-all. A not-so-rocket Ronnie played good safety shots in the decider to give himself a chance but after he’d finally won his fifth UK Championship title, he sounded and looked as if he was embarrassed rather than elated. Looking more and more like Noel Gallagher, Ronnie huffed and puffed, took off his bow tie, admitted it was the toughest match he’d ever played and was nonplussed as to how on earth he’d managed to win.
‘I don’t know how that happened,’ he said, to laughter from the crowd. ‘I didn’t know what day it was.’
As for Trump, asked for the classic sportsman’s take on what positives he could take out of a match he lost, he said, ‘None’.
He’s nothing if not honest and he knows that the runner-up still goes home a loser, even if you’ve been part of one of the greatest-ever snooker finals. Snooker fans will be hoping they meet regularly in finals, although O’Sullivan said he’d rather avoid Trump for the foreseeable future.
Ronnie picks and chooses his tournaments and seems to be able to produce his top game when it matters most. He first became UK champion in 1993 when he was just 17 years old. Twenty-one years later, having kept up a policy of ‘less is more’, he’s still the best in the business and the new rivalry with Trump may keep him going for a good while longer.
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