Ronnie O’Sullivan wins eighth UK snooker title – 30 years after the first

Ronnie O'Sullivan holds the UK Snooker Championship trophy after beating Ding Junhui
Ronnie O'Sullivan is both the youngest and oldest UK champion in history - Getty Images/George Wood

He has been a fixture of such permanence on the sporting landscape that it has become easy to take Ronnie O’Sullivan for granted.

Every record of snooker significance was already his before he arrived in York for this year’s UK Championships but it is still doubtful whether even he has ever chalked up a more remarkable achievement than this.

O’Sullivan will turn 48 on Tuesday but he is the winner again of a major tournament that he first won as a 17-year-old in 1993. That makes him both the youngest and oldest UK champion in history and, with a 30-year gap between those two victories, the holder of a record that is surely unique in elite sport.

Golf’s Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are perhaps the closest equivalents but even their historic last US Masters titles – both won in the twilights of their careers – were achieved with a respective 24 and 22-year gap from their trailblazing first major.

O’Sullivan’s longevity is already far in advance of that and, for the snooker world, the most frightening aspect is that there is probably more to come. He is still ranked No 1 in the world and, while he has actually been short of his absolute best in York over the past week, his level soared noticeably in relation to the importance of a particular moment of a match.

It was evident in beating both Robert Milkins and Zhou Yuelong in final-frame deciders and once again in the final against China’s Ding Junhui.

Having led 3-0, 4-1 and 7-5, O’Sullivan was repeatedly pegged back and, when Ding made it 7-7 with a century break, it looked like the tide might just turn.

‘He’s probably a better winning machine than he’s ever been’

Ding is himself a three-time UK champion, but the sudden danger seemed to sound an alarm inside O’Sullivan. A brilliant long red in frame 15 was the prelude to a century break of his own and then, even with the balls awkwardly positioned, O’Sullivan produced a truly magical sequence of shots to further extend his lead to 9-7.

He followed that up with a fluent break of 129 to seal a record 40th ranking title in quite magnificent style.

It was all completely in keeping with how O’Sullivan described his optimum outlook in a pre-tournament interview with Telegraph Sport. “It’s like a flick of the switch – you think ‘F--- I’m dangerous’,” said O’Sullivan. “No blinking. Commit. It’s, ‘I’m going to f---ing grab hold of this’.”

He did just that and, as well as becoming the oldest ever winner of the event, he extended several other records. This was also his 22nd ‘major’ victory; four more than Stephen Hendry and some six more even than his two biggest contemporary rivals (John Higgins and Mark Williams) put together. With seven victories in both the World Championships and the Masters, he is also now the first player to win any of the three majors eight times.

“It’s an unbelievable achievement – he’s probably a better competitor and winning machine than he’s ever been,” said Hendry, who was commentating on the match for the BBC.

Steve Davis, who was similar to Hendry in fading from the absolute top once he reached the age of 30, described O’Sullivan’s achievement as “astonishing” and is adamant that he stands comparison with anyone in British sports history. “What a career,” he said, before urging O’Sullivan to go on. “It will be good for him to try as hard as possible to stay at the top for as long as possible. The adrenalin and buzz you get walking out there will be impossible to replicate.”

O’Sullivan finds it hard to believe that he has now been winning for more than three decades but he intends to take Davis’s advice. “I love playing and I love competing,” he said. “I beat myself up because of the age thing. I think it’s got to stop at some point but I’ll keep going until the wheels fall off.”