Snooker of the gods

The Rocket and his A game

My interest in the game of snooker is quite recent. It all started when I saw some of those “best shots of” videos on the internet. One of such videos was O’Sullivan’s best shots of all time. I remember I was trying to relax and watch something entertaining, the sort of stuff that was not related to my job in computer science. And then I caught myself watching a series of snooker videos featuring the top players on the tour. Soon I learned The Rocket was some sort of a star player — one of the greatest the game has ever seen. And then I did some research… Long story short: I have been watching his matches since then. Since when exactly? About 4 years ago. Please keep in mind that I watch other players as well, and they too can perform to the highest level. But this post about the reason I’m drawn to the screen like a moth when The Rocket is playing.

I think O’Sullivan’s top performances should be recorded in highly redundant storage systems in 4K resolution or above. His A game is snooker turned into some form of art; it is soothing and absolutely a joy to watch. In fact, I don’t care how many titles he has won in his career and I don’t waste my time on that endless (and fruitless) discussion of who’s the best player of all time. I just enjoy watching him play at his best. And of course, for that to happen, he needs to keep playing. I have produced a list of some of those matches in which he played his A game from start to finish against some tough competition. Hope you enjoy!

O’Sullivan vs Ricky Walden (Masters 2014 Quarter-final)

As John Parrot said in the commentary box, that really was snooker of the gods. O’Sullivan won six frames in less than one hour. In fact, Ricky Walden made a break of 39 in the first frame, lost position and had to play safe. And that was all the significant table time he had. Ronnie counter-attacked with a break of 79 to win the first frame, followed by frame-winning breaks of 88 and 72, a total clearance of 134, 77 and 56. O’Sullivan scored 80 points in the first frame, 89 in the second, 82 in the third and 95 in the sixth. A total of 557 points, 556 of those without reply. Notice that Ricky Walden was not playing badly, he was not playing!

O’Sullivan vs Kyren Wilson (English Open 2017 Final)

The Rocket played his A game to win the match 9-2, making nine 50+ breaks (including four centuries and a break of 96). The fact that O’Sullivan had a 98% pot success rate over the course of 11 frames is enough evidence of how well he was playing. In the last frame, Ronnie played a brilliant cannon shot to disturb the reds, despite being too straight on the blue (one of my favorite shots from him). From there, he went on to clear the table with a break of 132.

O’Sullivan vs Marco Fu (Masters 2018 Last 16)

A surreal performance from the defending champion. He punished Fu’s mistakes in the first couple of frames with two century breaks, followed by breaks of 74 and 50 in the third frame and yet another century break in the fourth frame. O’Sullivan was so dominant that Fu only potted his first ball in the fifth frame. The Rocket compiled breaks of 75 and 53 in the last couple of frames to win the match 6-0. Despite playing sublime snooker in the first round, O’Sullivan lost 6-1 to Mark Allen in the quarter-final. Allen went on to win the tournament. This is the only case in my list in which O’Sullivan played at his best but didn’t go all the way to the title.

O’Sullivan vs Xiao Guodong (World Grand Prix 2018 Quarter-final)

A (lightning) fast and clean kill. O’Sullivan won this best of 9 match 5-0 in less than one hour. He scored three consecutive centuries in the first 3 frames, then a half-century in frame four, and finally a fourth century in frame five. His average shot time was below 15 seconds and he scored more than 100 points per frame on average. Well, the nickname “The Rocket” really suits him.

O’Sullivan vs John Higgins (Champion of Champions 2018 Quarter-final)

In terms of standard, this match is one of the best I have ever seen. Without a doubt, two great champions going toe to toe. When a player missed, the other would simply clear the table; that was snooker the way it is meant to be played. Higgins made some mistakes in the beginning of the match, allowing O’Sullivan to build a 2-0 lead with breaks of 57 and 109. Higgins won the next three frames with breaks of 91, 70 and 83, which triggered an outstanding response from his rival. At that point, O’Sullivan was 3-2 down, but his pot success rate was well above 90%. He then made a century break to level the match, compiled a magnificent break of 137 in frame 7, won the frame that followed and made another century break (his fourth in the match, in case you have lost count) to close the match in great style!

O’Sullivan vs Niel Robertson (Players Championship 2019 Final)

For those who think that’s not possible to play brilliantly over the course of 14 frames, this match proves otherwise. This was the occasion when O’Sullivan made his historic thousandth century. Things were even sweeter because he played flawlessly during the entire match. His level of concentration was absurd, his long potting was relentless, and his safety was pretty good, too. His A game saw him win the match 10-4 with eleven 50+ breaks, 3 of those centuries. There was nothing Niel Roberstson could have done to turn things around. The Rocket was simply unstoppable.

No A game in 2020?

The answer is no, unfortunately. At least not until this date. The truth is that the reigning world champion didn’t have to resort to his A game to win in Sheffield. However, I do hope to see more of his memorable performances. As a snooker fan, I miss his legendary A game a lot. There’s still time though, 2020 is not over yet.

The Rocket won his sixth world title without his A game

Just in time: I’d like to thank cuetracker.net for providing reliable data on the game.

Photo credit: wst.tv
Image "rocket-launch-67646_1920.jpg" by WikiImages from Pixabay