Ronnie ushers a red to right corner and a friendly cannon gives him a choice of baulk colours – he picks brown – using it to make his way up the table. The table isn’t nicely set, but if he can get the angle he needs off the next red to drop black into right-middle – which of course he does, right in the middle of the circle Dennis Taylor drew on the screen to indicate the necessary position – he’ll be in good shape. But have a look! He misses the next red to left corner, and Judd is back in business!
Ronnie snicks a red and avoids cannoning any of the others, but he promotes a different one towards right corner. I can’t see Judd refusing this, but the red will career into the cluster so if he misses he’s in all sorts and if he doesn’t, what will he be on? He goes for it as he must, and brings the white back through a gap that leaves him a pink to right-middle! Down it goes, but there’s still a lot of work to do for this to become a serious chance, so the next colour – a black to right-corner, sent parallel with the top cushion – is a tester. It’s not as fiendish as the one he despatched in the previous frame but is eminently missable and indeed he does miss it. Left little, Ronnie sinks a starter, without even trying to get position, then plays safe.
With it getting increasingly difficult to find a safety, Judd tries a thin one but catches the pink first; there follows a pause while the ref and assistants figure out how best to replace the balls. Regular readers will be surprised to hear me say this, but I can’t think of a job a hamfisted klutz like me would be worse at than that, and luckily for them Judd tries a different shot second time, so we’re quickly back exchanging safety.
In the box, Stephen is delighted that Judd took on that first black, because though it was high tariff, he badly needed the boost of sinking it. Every journey starts with a single step. But it’s Ronnie in first in frame 19 with a lovely long red, clipped to left corner and it looks like he’s going to cannon the blue too … but he misses it, just, so on nothing can only restart a safety exchange.
A blue to the yellow pocket, played righty, raises that elusive ton, and though the black doesn’t drop, Judd retires to his seat with a 106 behind him. He needed that, as a cartoon character whose name escapes me was wont to say after being hit on the head. Can anyone remember who I mean?
A red to left corner leaves Ronnie needing snookers, but Judd will want more than that – he’s not made a ton in this match yet, and needs to let it be known that he’s “still fighting for this title”.
A gorgeous pink to right-middle, floated at an acute angle and dropping in off the far knuckle, clears the area around the black spot and this is now a terrific chance to clinch the first frame of the day.
Ronnie’s discipline in this competition has been so good – he’s done the correct thing almost every time, even if it goes against his attacking instincts. But a decent safety from Judd has him missing a little snick and the second go hands Judd a chance. Though he takes the opener, he focuses everything on making sure of the pot – that’s a man not entirely confident in his game – but what a black comes next, caressed along the top cushion by snuggling in behind it from above. Can he make it count?
Ronnie leaves the white near the blue spot, somehow leaving nothing, so Judd tries forcing a plant to left corner, getting nowhere near and somehow leaving nothing … easy. But playing Ronnie in this form and headspace, a tight one to left-middle is soon gliding home, and nothing we’ve seen so far suggests today will be much different to yesterday. Ronnie, though, pots the blue into the yellow pocket only to bring the white back a roll or two too much, the replaces blue covering the reds for which he’d played, so it’s another safety with both players aware that the next of them to get in will have a decent chance of a frame-winning run.
Judd breaks off nicely, forcing Ronnie to play thin off a stray – yes, we’re first-name terms here, what of it? – and he goes in-off, which he won’t mind as there’s no dangling tempter. But there is shortly afterwards, to left corner – no gimme but one Judd should and needs to drain – except he jawses it and already he’s in big trouble as Ronnie accumulates. Except have a look! A misjudged cannon leaves the white stuck to a red in the cluster, so he plays safe back to baulk, a boon for Judd. It’s so rare you see Ronnie lose control of the cue-ball, his deftness about the black spot miles ahead of anyone else’s.
A wry grin and some dap as he descends the stairs, then here comes Ronnie. The crowd give him loads.
A standing ovation as the boyz prepare to baize. Judd does not look chuffed, at all.
Jack Lisowski loves a shirt unbuttoned with t-shirt underneath; techno’s Steve Davis is in a syoot. It’s on!
Also, a good choice of music for BBC’s opening montage, for this is what we’re doing.
Stephen Hendry is proper champion. None of this “Records are there to be broken, it’ll great for the sport to see Ronnie overtake me”. He’s “slowly coming to terms with it”. On which point, here’s a bit on not only one of the greatest players ever but one of the greatest co-commentators in sport.
These are interesting stats. Essentially, if Ronnie’s at it, good luck beating him – it’s what made Selby’s win so special. In that situation, only he has the ability to sneak enough frames he shouldn’t.
And here’s something on what makes the world snooker championship so special.
Here’s something on that 2014 final, the first time O’Sullivan lost one and, for my the first time he was properly outplayed once he was fully-formed.
Truth is, watching Trump struggle against Bingham in the last eight, it was near-enough impossible to see him improving enough to win the thing – just as it near-enough impossible to see Higgins improving enough to beat O’Sullivan in the last four. There’s something different about O’Sullivan this term. He’s focused his entire season around becoming world champion, and though he won at the Cruce in 2020, he got a little fortunate to beat Mark Selby in a final-frame semi-final decider then play an exhausted Kyren Wilson in the final. This is the best he’s played in Sheffield since 2014 when he somehow lost the final to Mark Selby, but this time, his day-one superiority is reflected by the overnight score. To begin with, all Trump can do is try and avoid the ignominy of defeat with a session to spare – that hasn’t happened since 1993, when Stephen Hendry whacked Jimmy White 18-5.
There’s almost nothing in this world that won’t, at some point, let us down – work, sport, friends, family, government, God. But every year, we can rely on the world snooker championship to bring light, joy and drama.
This term, we’ve had Neil Robertson making a 147 of startling smoothness in front of the mum he’d not seen for two years, and with Judd Trump waiting on the other side of the partition to congratulate him. Trump then beat Anthony McGill in a thriller, while Robertson lost a final-frame decider to Jack Lisowski, finally making good on his enormous potential and with Trump, one of his closest mates, again waiting to share the moment with him.
We’ve also had John Higgins coming back from one down with two to play to beat Lisowski; Trump playing one of the worst mini-sessions of his career before winning eight frames to straight to beat Stuart Bingham; and Ronnie O’Sullivan conjuring an unfathomable, disgraceful clearance of 43, up there with Alex Higgins’ famous 69 in 1982, to steal a frame from Higgins on a respotted black.
But my favourite moment this term was actually a moment: the look shared between Trump and Mark Williams prior to the last frame of their semi-final thriller. Somehow, in a few seconds, they conveyed the respect for what they’d done and what they were going to do; how difficult that is and what it means; how impressed they were with each other and themselves; the bond forged between them through competition, the intimacy of intensity. It was beautiful, moving and, if we’re being real, extremely envy-inducing. What must it feel like to feel like that?
Trump then turned towards the crowd and noised them up, they responded with all the reverence the players deserved, and he clinched a win that seemed inevitable when he finished the first session 7-1 in front, but far less so when he trailed by one with Williams needing just one more to win.
Somehow, Trump needs to find that spirit this afternoon. There’s a feeling known as the overview effect, that some astronauts experience when seeing the world from above, giving them a sense of transcendence and connection which bring with it a renewed sense of perspective and love for humanity. These means are unavailable to most of us, but luckily for us, the consciousness is not: we can watch Ronnie O’Sullivan play snooker.
Though he’s not the tearaway genius of 2004, when he lost just 26 frames in cruising to the title playing better than anyone ever has before, he’s no less a genius for that. His instinctive, intellectual grasp of the best route around a table is elevated by a fresh and calm desperation to equal Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles, his 12-5 overnight lead well-earned and almost definitely conclusive.
However, though Trump can’t compete with O’Sullivan’s masterful deployment of nudges, cannons and touches, he remains one of the most devastating potters the game has ever seen and its finest recovery-potter bar none. His performance in 2019, when he trounced Higgins 18-8, is not just the greatest snooker has ever seen but one of the greatest in any final in any any sport, ever, and if he can find that standard or anything close to it today, he can’t be counted out. If he does – and he’s going to have to – we’ll see something we’ll be talking about for as long as we’re talking about anything. And if he doesn’t, we stand on the cusp of history. Here we go!