The big question everyone in snooker asked themselves the moment Ronnie O’Sullivan went level with Steve Davis on six world titles over the summer was this: could he go one better and share the outright Crucible record with Stephen Hendry?
Unlike “The Nugget” and the seven-time world champion, “The Rocket” hasn’t dominated for a decade but enjoyed green baize success at the sport’s premier event that is more spread out. Davis contested eight of the nine Crucible finals between 1981 and 1989 winning six, while Hendry scored his magnificent seven from the eight world finals reached from 1990 to 1999.
O’Sullivan has been world snooker champion across three different decades over 19 years. He has also been less than complimentary about standards in the sport outside of the hallowed top 16 which gives potters seeding for the Crucible draw and invitation to The Masters.
Rocket Ronnie doesn’t think there is strength in depth to snooker these days, particularly among younger players. If you go back to the 1990s, it certainly felt like a game for youngsters then with Hendry’s exploits and that rapid O’Sullivan 147 clearance in record time at the Crucible.
It almost seems as if he has been waiting for a new generation to challenge him, but that hasn’t materialised and instead the obstacles to overcome are more often than not familiar in the longstanding old guard. Ronnie has beaten them all time and again down his near 30-year career.
On that basis there is every chance of The Rocket matching Hendry and, for those looking to improve their snooker knowledge, he is already a record breaker and holder. No potter has made more century breaks than O’Sullivan with over 1000 scores of 100+ at one visit under his belt.
His place among the all-time greats of snooker is assured. As well as six Crucible crowns, Ronnie has a record seven Masters titles and made 13 finals which is four more than Hendry reached. O’Sullivan is also most successful UK Champion with seven wins there too, meaning he just needs one more world title to have won each of the Triple Crown events on seven different occasions.
There is a lovely sounding symmetry to that, though The Rocket has always denied that such record and accolades motivate when asked. Contemporary and long-time rival Hendry is also coming out of retirement following eight years as a pundit and commentator which adds extra spice to the future.
Another encounter between these snooker legends on a major stage in the 2020-21 season is the stuff of dreams for fans. While that is some way off, the bookies make O’Sullivan 3/1 joint-favourite to retain the World Snooker Championship and sit level with Hendry as co-kings of the Crucible.
When Rocket Ronnie is firing, it is brave (read foolish) to bet against him. With so much history in the sport already made by him, a seventh world title is perfectly possible because the rigours of that tournament demand nothing short of the very best matchplay snooker from the winner which could well be O’Sullivan once again in 2021.