Ronnie O’Sullivan finally equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles by beating Judd Trump 18-13, leading many to believe The Rocket has cemented his place as the greatest to hold a cue.
O’Sullivan became the oldest player to win the World Snooker Championship at the age of 46 years and 148 days old, surpassing his former coach and mentor Ray Reardon, on his 30th appearance at the tournament. He has long been heralded as being the most naturally gifted player to play the game, with many believing him to be the greatest bar none.
For all the records The Rocket held, there was always one that cast doubt as to whether he could be called the greatest of all time. Hendry, for more than two decades, stood out on his own with seven world titles, a modern-era record he claimed in 1999 when he surpassed Reardon and Steve Davis’ total of six world titles. Until O’Sullivan could at least level with his old foe, some snooker fans remained unconvinced that he was the best.
O’Sullivan holds the record for the most Triple Crown titles, winning the UK Championship and the Masters (the two events that make up the Triple Crown along with the World Championship) on seven occasions each to go with his seven world titles. He also holds the record for being the youngest player to win a ranking title at 17 years and 358 days old when he won the UK Championship in 1993 and is the only player in history to make over 1,000 career century breaks (1,169 at the time of writing).
His run to winning the 2022 World Snooker Championship also saw him set a new record of 74 wins at The Crucible, the host venue for the tournament, surpassing the previous record of 70 held by Hendry. O’Sullivan is also a Guinness World Record holder for achieving the fastest competitive maximum break, taking five minutes and eight seconds to hit a 147 in the 1997 World Snooker Championship – averaging at just over 8.5 seconds per shot.
O’Sullivan holds a myriad of other records along with those already mentioned, a big contributing factor to the argument that he is the greatest to play the game.
Hendry is the main other name mentioned by fans when it comes to arguing who is the greatest snooker player ever. The Scotsman dominated in the 1990s, winning all seven of his world titles in the decade as well as all bar one of his 18 Triple Crown titles (the other coming at the UK Championship in 1989).
When he won his first World Snooker Championship in 1990, Hendry became the sport’s youngest world champion aged 21 years and 106 days old. Hendry was ranked number one in the world from 1990 to 1998, the longest consecutive period in snooker history.
Davis was to snooker in the 1980s what Hendry was in the 1990s, utterly dominant. He reached eight World Snooker Championship finals, winning six, in nine years, including the famed 1985 final in which he suffered defeat to Dennis Taylor on the final black.
The Nugget is the only snooker player to be named BBC Sports Personality of the Year, winning the cross-sport award in 1988, and shares the record for most appearances at the World Snooker Championship with O’Sullivan (30).
Another six-time world champion, Reardon dominated the 1970s. He won the World Snooker Championship in 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, and 1978 and while he does not have nearly as many ranking titles to his name as O’Sullivan, Hendry, or Davis, it is important to keep in mind that Reardon’s era had far fewer tournaments in the calendar.
Reardon was ranked number one in the world for six years across two spells and also worked with O’Sullivan in a coaching capacity, during which time The Rocket won his second world title in 2004. At the age of 50 years and 14 days, Reardon is the oldest player to win a ranking event when he defeated Jimmy White 10-5 to win the Professional Players Tournament in 1982.
Higgins has his place amongst the very best to have played the game. Though his record does not match up on paper against the likes of O’Sullivan, Hendry and Davis, the Irishman was credited with bringing the game to a wider audience and known as the peoples’ champion, largely thanks to his aggressive style of play and controversial behaviour.
In 1972, the Hurricane became the first qualifier to win a world title and won his second and last World Snooker Championship a decade later in 1982. O’Sullivan himself described Higgins as “the greatest snooker player I have ever seen”.
Ultimately, it is a matter of opinion as to who the greatest snooker player of all time is. On paper, it is hard to look past O’Sullivan having either eclipsed or levelled most of Hendry’s records, though the latter achieved all that he did in a much shorter time.
Older fans will remember the likes of Davis, Reardon, and Higgins, too. O’Sullivan himself says that he does not want to be regarded as the greatest, though with such a stellar record it is difficult not to be.