Ronnie O’Sullivan eases into the Crucible on the hunt for a modern record eighth world title and it is abundantly apparent that if the Rocket is in the mood, then very few of his rivals will be able to live with him.

But while O’Sullivan continues to soak up all the pre-tournament column inches, the PA news agency sizes up the best of the rest who are left with the daunting task of putting the brakes on the best player the game has seen.

Luca Brecel

Barring a run to the final of the non-ranking Shanghai Masters, Brecel has done anything but build on his stunning title success last year, and must rank as one of the least fancied returning champions in history. But the Belgian was equally unfancied 12 months ago when he waded into the Crucible insisting he had not laid a hand on the practice table, so it feels wrong to write him off entirely just yet.

Judd Trump

Flashback to 2019 when Trump’s maiden world crown bore all the hallmarks of a decade of dominance ahead. No fewer than 14 ranking titles have followed – including five this year alone – but with the exception of the 2023 Masters, the coveted majors have remained elusive. Trump undoubtedly has the talent to become a multiple world champion, but whether he has the temperament to see it through again remains a significant question mark.

Mark Selby

Four-time winner Selby trudges to the Crucible on the back of another inconsistent campaign that left him seriously considering retirement after his loss to Gary Wilson in the first round of this month’s Tour Championship. All of which will count for nothing, of course, when the Crucible kicks back in and the 40-year-old, who has repeatedly showed the tenacity to grind his way through the rounds, will once again be well and truly in the running.

Mark Allen

Seemingly in danger of becoming known as one of the game’s great under-achievers, Allen radically altered his style a couple of seasons ago and the ranking titles began rolling in – five in the last two years, plus a Champion of Champions gong. While it undoubtedly makes him better-equipped to break his Crucible duck, the fact remains that his Crucible record – with just two semi-finals in 17 appearances – leaves a lot to be desired.

Gary Wilson

Wilson’s run to the 2019 semi-finals as a qualifier looked to have been a flash in the pan until the last two seasons, in which the Tyneside man has picked up three ranking crowns and established a reputation as one of the toughest match-players in the business. With a steady temperament that makes him well-suited to the long game, Wilson could emerge once again as a major threat.

Ronnie O’Sullivan says he has driven himself “mad” for two years and has gone back to basics after thrashing Ali Carter 10-2 to reach the semi-finals of the Tour Championship.

O’Sullivan and Carter had a Manchester reunion in what had been termed a grudge match following their ill-tempered meeting at the Masters final in January, which ‘The Rocket’ won 10-7 to claim an eighth title.

Carter accused O’Sullivan of “snotting all over the floor” and O’Sullivan responded by saying his opponent was “not a nice person” during an expletive-laden rant.

O’Sullivan refused to speak about Carter in his pre-game interview, letting his snooker do the talking in a one-sided contest.

But O’Sullivan opened up after booking his place in Friday’s semi-final, saying his unhappiness had prompted conversations with renowned psychiatrist Steve Peters.

“I’ve just decided I’m going to change my thinking and forget about trying to fathom my game out,” world number one O’Sullivan told ITV4.

“If I change my thinking I can accept whatever is thrown at me and take whatever.

“It’s been a hard year, drove myself pretty much insane really. It’s just got to me.

“I decided to speak to Steve Peters, said I wasn’t happy.

“I had to go back to basics and get my head right. Deal with it because doing it the other way round isn’t working.

“I’ve got to accept that’s life. You can’t be perfect all the time and trying to be perfect all the time is not ideal.

“Just getting my head around it is the only option I’ve have left. I’ve driven myself mad for the last two years and not enjoyed any of it.”

Carter never settled after missing an easy red in the opening frame which O’Sullivan punished by making a 77 break.

A scrappy 28-minute frame followed and O’Sullivan went to the interval 4-0 up after compiling breaks of 87 and 54.

Carter’s best in the first session was a meagre 13 and his senses seemed scrambled when attempting to swerve around the yellow to strike one of two reds left on the table.

O’Sullivan capitalised with a frame-winning 51 and extended his advantage to 7-0 with breaks of 81 and 92 – those efforts taking all of a combined 14 minutes.

Carter headed into the final frame of the afternoon session with the prospect of being whitewashed.

But he responded in superb fashion with a 141 clearance to eclipse Tom Ford’s 138 as the highest break of the tournament, placing him in prime position for a £10,000 bonus.

Carter closed out O’Sullivan again at the start of the evening session with breaks of 36 and 70 reducing the deficit to 7-2.

It was a false dawn, however, as Carter ran out of position and missed a red for O’Sullivan to make a 62 clearance.

O’Sullivan then cashed in with a decisive 52 break after another Carter error had opened up the table.

Carter was put of his misery in the 12th frame as O’Sullivan compiled 67 before going in-off in the middle pocket, a rare mistake in a snooker masterclass.

Zhang Anda and Gary Wilson will resume their quarter-final on Thursday level at 4-4, with the winner meeting O’Sullivan in the last four.

Wilson won two frames on the black to lead 3-1 before Zhang fought back strongly in an even contest.

Ronnie O’Sullivan stepped up his game to sink Lyu Haotian and book his place in the last 16 of the World Open in Yushan.

The world number one had looked rusty in his previous round win over Michael White but got back in the groove to shrug off the determined world number 28.

Lyu twice hit back to level in the first four frames but O’Sullivan would not be denied and breaks of 106 and 96 in the final three frames to set up a meeting with Hossein Vafaei.

Judd Trump, who won the tournament when it was last staged in 2019, stayed on course for a repeat performance as he fired two centuries in a 5-3 win over Fan Zhengyi.

Trump’s performance was upstaged by Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy, both of whom compiled three centuries as they secured victories over Cao Yupeng and Joe Perry respectively.

Neil Robertson and Mark Selby were also winners, but world champion Luca Brecel’s recent return to form juddered to a halt as he was thrashed 5-1 by Stephen Maguire.

James Anderson continues to defy the sands of time, claiming his 700th Test wicket aged 41 for England in their fifth Test against India in Dharamsala.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five other sportspeople from the UK whose longevity is unparalleled in their chosen professions.

Sir Steve Redgrave – rowing

The only man in history to win gold at five successive Olympics in an endurance sport. Redgrave first stood atop the podium at a Games in Los Angeles 1984 and reigned supreme until Sydney 2000 – four years after his memorable utterance: “Anybody who sees me in a boat has my permission to shoot me” in 1996.

Ryan Giggs – football

The most decorated player in English football history with 34 trophies, the Welshman went 23 seasons in a row scoring at least one goal in the top-flight. The ex-Manchester United winger played over 1,000 games for club and country, penning his first deal as a 17-year-old in 1990 before bowing out in 2014.

Ronnie O’Sullivan – snooker

Seven days before his 18th birthday, O’Sullivan toppled the great Stephen Hendry in the final of the 1993 UK Championship. While it took another eight years to win a first world title, the Chigwell-based potter has won another six since then and most observers would argue he remains the best player today.

Sir AP McCoy – horse racing

A champion jockey for a record 20 successive times in every year that he was a professional, the Northern Irishman rode 4,358 winners. McCoy won almost every notable horse race in Britain and Ireland and capped his career with a long-awaited Grand National triumph in 2010, retiring five years later.

James Roby – rugby league

In an often brutal sport where injuries can soon take their toll, the former St Helens captain broke the mould with a 20-season career and finished as the leading appearance-maker in Super League’s summer era with 495 matches. Roby was a six-time Super League and two-time World Club Challenge winner.

Ronnie O’Sullivan vowed to pocket the golden ball next year after beating Luca Brecel in the final of the inaugural World Masters of Snooker.

O’Sullivan beat the world champion 5-2 in Saudi Arabia to win his fifth title of the campaign.

But his victory did not include potting the golden ball, which sits on the bottom cushion for as long as a maximum break is possible and is worth £395,000 if potted in addition to the 147.

John Higgins came the closest to getting a shot on the golden ball throughout the tournament in Riyadh, but having potted all 15 reds and blacks in the first frame of his second-round match against Mark Williams he ran out of position on the yellow.

O’Sullivan, who pocketed £250,000 by winning the tournament, is keen to achieve the feat at next year’s event.

“It’s been a fantastic tournament, a fantastic venue, the crowd have been amazing,” O’Sullivan told DAZN.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been to the Middle East and to be back here is a treat.

“I’ll get the golden ball next year. I didn’t want to take it all at once.

“I’ll take the tournament this year and then the golden ball next year. It’ll be great.”

O’Sullivan had a break of 95 to take the opening frame but Brecel came back strong in the second to level.

The Belgian took a quickfire third frame with a break of 81 to edge into the lead but a missed black in the next allowed O’Sullivan to tie things up again with a 94 clearance.

And O’Sullivan raced to victory after the interval, with breaks of 121 and 124 securing a 79th professional title.

Runner-up Brecel said: “It’s been a fantastic few days. I’ve really enjoyed playing and I think the crowd has been fantastic.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan put his World Grand Prix success down to buying an air fryer and smoothie maker and not eating junk food.

O’Sullivan stormed back from 4-0 down in Leicester on Sunday to beat Judd Trump 10-7 and win his second title in the space of a week following his Masters success.

“Start of the week I was feeling a bit rough and then I bought myself an air fryer and a smoothie maker,” O’Sullivan said on ITV.

“I don’t like eating junk food. It sorts of puts me in a funny place.

“I started feeling better as the week went on. I played some of my best snooker against Ding (Junhui, in his 6-1 semi-final win) and that gave me some confidence because I knew I’d have to play well to do something against Judd.”

The Rocket, just as he had done at the Masters, had to call on his powers of recovery after Trump established early command.

He said: “Judd blasted off the table 4-0 and I was thinking ‘this could be an early night, like a 10-1 job’.

“I managed to nick a few frames, 5-3 gave me a bit of optimism, and I thought I’d just come out and try, enjoy the battle and see what happens.

“You have to battle against Judd because he’s a warrior and the favourite for the World Championship for sure.”

World number one O’Sullivan reeled off six straight frame from 7-4 down to claim his 41st ranking title and win £100,000.

“I enjoyed that. I really did,” said O’Sullivan.

“I know I’m 48, but when I play snooker I can knock 20 years off and I feel quite vibrant.

“As long as I’m feeling young at the table I don’t feel age is an issue.

“I think experience is helping me. I’ve won a lot of tournaments, been around a while and learned a lot about the game.

“I think I’m a better all-round player than I’ve ever been.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan clawed his way back into contention after a torrid opening session of the World Grand Prix final against Judd Trump in Leicester.

The world number one had swept into the final on the back of a dazzling semi-final win over Ding Junhui, but his touch looked to have deserted him as he slumped to a 4-0 deficit by the mid-session interval.

But O’Sullivan, looking to build on his recent UK Championship and Masters titles, recovered to narrow the gap to two frames at 5-3 ahead of Sunday evening’s resumption in their best-of-19 clash.

Despite questioning his future in the sport during much of his run to the final, O’Sullivan conceded he had barely played better than in his last-four win over Ding, when he rifled four centuries to triumph 6-1.

But it was Trump who seized the initiative on Sunday with a break of 74 giving him the first frame, before O’Sullivan uncharacteristically spurned a chance to steal the second as he fell two behind.

O’Sullivan once again failed to punish his opponent for a pair of misses in the third frame, going in-off during an attempted safety which enabled Trump to chisel out the points required to extend his lead.

A nightmare mini-session was complete as Trump made 69 to move further in front, but O’Sullivan finally stirred upon the resumption to take the fifth frame in two visits.

Trump failed to punish O’Sullivan for more misses in frame six, but he got the better of frame seven in what was proving an increasingly scrappy encounter to restore his three-frame lead.

Trump again spurned a fine chance to wrap up the afternoon session four frames in front when he missed a black on a break of 33, and O’Sullivan finally showed a glimpse of his earlier form with an excellent response of 63, enough to leave it with all to play for on Sunday evening.

Luke Littler became the youngest player ever to reach the final of the World Darts Championship when he defeated Rob Cross on Tuesday.

The 16-year-old now has a shot at claiming an historic place in the sport as he takes aim at the title at Alexandra Palace.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of sport’s other teenage prodigies in recent years.

Wayne Rooney – 16 years old

Though his breakthrough moment undoubtedly came when he scored past David Seaman from 30 yards in October 2002 to end champions Arsenal’s 30-game unbeaten Premier League run, Rooney had actually made his senior Everton debut two months earlier against Tottenham, setting up a goal for Mark Pembridge in a 2-2 draw.

England’s Euro 2004 opener against France in Portugal shot him to international stardom before he signed for Manchester United later that summer, going on to become all-time top scorer for both United (253) and for England (53), though his international tally has since been surpassed by Harry Kane.

Ronnie O’Sullivan – 17

O’Sullivan became the youngest-ever winner of a ranking event when, aged 17, he beat Stephen Hendry to claim the 1993 UK Snooker Championship. Two years later, he was victorious in the 1995 Masters to add another record to his CV by the age of 19, both accolades that he still holds.

Victory in the 2022 Snooker World Championship was his eighth, drawing him level with Hendry for most wins, as he has lived up to the excitement that accompanied his arrival onto the scene more than 30 years ago to become one of the sport’s all-time greats.

Sky Brown – 13

The skateboarder became the UK’s youngest-ever Olympian when she competed at the Tokyo games aged just 13 and followed it up by becoming the country’s youngest medal winner when she took bronze in the women’s park skateboarding event.

She has continued to set records in the years since, most recently by becoming the first British winner at the skateboarding World Championships in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates in February 2023.

Cesc Fabregas – 16

Fabregas became Arsenal’s youngest-ever player when he made his first-team debut in a League Cup tie against Rotherham at Highbury in September 2003 and clocked another club record when he scored his first goal in the next round in a 5-1 win over Wolves.

It was the following season though that his true breakthrough arrived, taking up a regular place in the team’s midfield aged 17 at the start of the 2003/04 season as they sought to defend the title won the previous campaign. He went on to win two league titles with Chelsea as well as the 2010 World Cup and two European Championships with Spain.

Gianluigi Donnarumma – 16

AC Milan were in the midst of their decade-long barren spell when Donnarumma was thrust into the first team at the age of 16 in 2015, preferred to the veteran club legend Christian Abbiati and former number one Diego Lopez.

Standing at a height of 6ft 5in, he took up the mantel of first-choice goalkeeper with a stature that defied his young years, and the following year became Italy’s second-youngest ever goalkeeper when he made his international debut in a friendly against France. He has since helped the team to win Euro 2020 where he saved two penalties in the final shootout against England.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has been accused of “disrespect” by the player whose dreams of facing the world number one were dashed at the Scottish Open in Edinburgh on Monday.

The seven-time world champion withdrew from the event citing medical reasons just hours before he was scheduled to face 19-year-old Liam Graham in a first round match.

Graham criticised the timing of O’Sullivan’s decision, telling the Daily Record: “It’s disrespectful, it’s not right.

“A lot of people took time off work to come and watch today and it’s disappointing.

“It’s not surprising given the things he does. I found out when I got to the venue this morning. I didn’t have much prior warning – I think he pulled out very late.”

O’Sullivan, who won his record-extending eighth UK title in York earlier this month, has now withdrawn from five of eight ranking tournaments this season, not including the Snooker Shootout.

Last month, he pulled out from the Champion of Champions event in Bolton due to “mentally feeling a bit drained and stressed”.

It comes amid a time of tension between the player and World Snooker Tour chiefs over his desire to have the freedom to play in lucrative exhibitions in China.

In the wake of his final win over Ding Junhui in York, O’Sullivan insisted officials “seem to want me to hand my resignation in” – a claim flatly denied by WST.

Graham, who is in his first year as a professional, added: “At the end of the day I want to play the best players in the world and I was really looking forward to it.”

Ding Junhui clawed his way back into contention for a fourth UK Snooker Championship title after an absorbing opening session of his final against Ronnie O’Sullivan in York ended all square.

The Chinese 36-year-old looked down and out after a string of costly errors handed the seven-time winner the simplest of opportunities to ease into a 4-1 lead in their best of 19-frame encounter.

But Ding, who first won the title at the age of 18 in 2005, dug in to reel off the final three frames of the session, including breaks of 114 and 70, to leave the tie poised at 4-4 ahead of Sunday evening’s conclusion.

It had all looked like it was going to be too easy for O’Sullivan, who has seldom been required to find his best form in the tournament as opponents, including Zhou Yuelong and Hossein Vafaei, appeared to capitulate in his presence.

Despite his vast experience at the top of the game, including a run to last year’s final, Ding looked set to go the same way after missing a routine pink on a break of 63 in the opener, allowing O’Sullivan to sweep up.

O’Sullivan swiftly extended his lead and needed no second invitation to move 3-0 ahead with a break of 91 after Ding, once again presented with the first chance, missed a black off its spot.

It was the world number one’s turn to run aground in the fourth frame with Ding’s nervous 89 allowing him to get a frame on the board before the mid-session interval, but O’Sullivan duly restored his three-frame lead upon the resumption.

Facing the prospect of a one-sided final session, Ding dug in, pouncing on an uncharacteristic foul with the rest by O’Sullivan to close to 4-2, then summoning a 114 clearance to pink to haul back within one frame.

A break of 70 ensured Ding did enough in the next – despite unnecessarily extending the session after running out of position on frame ball – to leave it all to play for later on Sunday evening.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has warned he will quit snooker if he is restricted from playing in China.

Exhibition events in the Far East are becoming increasingly lucrative, but often clash with World Snooker Tour events. O’Sullivan and other UK-based players are contracted to play in WST tournaments and could face sanctions if they miss events to play overseas.

The seven-time world champion says the sport is at a “crossroads”.

O’Sullivan said in an interview with the BBC to promote his new documentary: “If I can’t go and do what I need to do, which is play a lot in China, I won’t ever play again. So, we’re at a kind of crossroads now.

“If that gets to the point where I’m not able to do that, I’m not allowed to do that, I probably won’t play. I’ll probably go and play Chinese 8-Ball because I still want to play snooker, I still want a cue in my hand.

“There’s just not enough here in the UK for me to justify the effort that I put in.

“If someone’s going to respect me and value me more, why would I not go there? It’s like being in an unhealthy relationship with someone, why would you be in that?

“I’d love to be able to just keep playing snooker for the next five, six, seven, eight years, but if I’m going to be forced into a situation where that’s not possible, then I’m not going to just accept whatever 132 players do, which is to go and play tournament after tournament, week in, week out.”

O’Sullivan has famously derided the standard on the WST in the past, suggesting he would need to lose a limb to drop down the rankings.

He still adopts that stance, claiming he is “revolted” by mediocrity.

“I don’t think it’s very hard to be a top-16 snooker player. I could probably get away with playing once a week for two or three hours a day,” O’Sullivan, 47, added.

“I find it hard to put myself in their shoes because I was in their shoes and I didn’t accept top 50 as OK.

“I’m not a great lover for mediocrity… I find it quite revolting in some ways, when I see people accepting that. That’s why I don’t hang around snooker people at venues because I just don’t like seeing it.

“I don’t think there’s enough good matches. I think there’s a lot of players that people don’t know, that don’t play the game in the right way.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan announced his decision to step away from snooker due to personal reasons on this day in 2012.

The star’s self-imposed exile did not last long and he would return for the season-ending World Championship and win it.

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said at the time: “I have spoken to Ronnie and he has decided to withdraw from any events he has entered, and he will not be playing for the rest of this season. He has some personal issues which he needs to resolve and we wish him all the best for the future.”

In May 2012, after winning his fourth world title, O’Sullivan said he intended to take some time away from the sport.

“I don’t intend to stay in the game long, even though I feel in a lot better place,” he said. “I’ve made that decision and this might – I’m not saying it is – be my last time in this tournament.”

Just a few months later, in 2013, he won a fifth world title – beating Barry Hawkins – although O’Sullivan had to wait seven years for a sixth, before adding a seventh in 2022.

O’Sullivan has continued his hints at retirement having repeatedly said he had fallen out of love with the game but just last year reiterated his focus.

He said: “I feel like I’ve got life in perspective – I spent enough years getting disappointed by the game. I thought let’s try not to get disappointed and it’s freed me up a bit.

“I’m still competitive. If I take up anything I want to be better, it’s just natural and I’ll never lose that, so the players can expect me to keep coming for more.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan will swap the green baize for the silver screen next month when the behind-the-scenes story of his quest to claim a record-equalling seventh World Snooker Championship is released in the UK.

‘Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Edge of Everything’ has been produced by David Beckham’s Studio 99, and the initial cinematic release on November 21 is preceded by a special Q&A with the former Manchester United and England star.

Explaining his decision to add to the canon of sporting documentaries, O’Sullivan said: “My highs and lows have been well-documented by the media but I felt like now was the right time to do something more definitive – something that I can look back and reflect on as I contemplate retirement.

“Going into my seventh World Championship I wasn’t sure I had it in me but allowing the cameras in gave me perspective and was a strange catharsis.”

The film, which is directed by Sam Blair, who was behind ‘Maradona 86’ and others, will subsequently be released on Prime Video on November 23, before opening in select cinemas nationwide the following day.

O’Sullivan revealed how the filming of the documentary had helped give him a new “perspective”, shortly after he provided it with a fairytale finish in 2022 with his emotional final victory over Judd Trump.

“I’ve given complete access to the point where if you put a fly on the wall and followed me for 17 days, that’s basically what happened,” O’Sullivan said at the time.

“They’ve been in my dressing room, they’ve been in my hotel room before and after matches and sessions. I embraced it because whatever I get involved in, let’s just make it the best I could possibly do.

“These snooker Gods, their timing is unbelievable. Last year I just hit fire at the right time when they (the cameras) were here, and the stars were written for me. They always have been ever since I was a kid in this game.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.