Aiming for 8 8 8 – but he’s gotta play better than that

Jan 12 / Snooker System
It’s hard to decide what’s more remarkable.

The fact that Ronnie O’Sullivan is still pushing the boundaries when it comes to personal achievement aged almost 50 or that he’s still finding a way to win the biggest matches on the biggest stage when he’s nowhere near his best.

It’s been an enjoyable yet perplexing couple of months for Ronnie’s legion of fans. In York, he rode to a record-extending eighth UK Championship crown but it wasn’t without jeopardy. He produced moments of brilliance when it mattered but was on the brink of defeat on more than one occasion.

There were times of real vulnerability although they were often followed by flashes of inspiration to get the job done.

This could be quite unsettling for some but it doesn’t seem to have dashed the hopes of a philosophical O’Sullivan who seems to be saying all the right things and setting his ambitions high – very high in fact.

He arrived at the Masters this week talking of ‘8 8 8’ which to the layman is his desire to take his tally of the sport’s three major titles to eight of each. He has the chance to do that this weekend in the Masters at Alexandra Palace and then complete the job in the spring at the World Championship in Sheffield.

Doing this would see him charter new territory. He has never managed to win both the UK Championship and Masters in the same season across his illustrious career – let alone sweep the board and secure the hat-trick.

This ultimately begs the question that with so little left to prove in the game, why now? On the one hand, maybe he needs to set himself these “little” goals to keep himself motivated or maybe it’s creating a sense of pressure to shock himself into digging deep to squeeze every last drop of achievement out before he hangs up his cue for good.

There is of course a lot of snooker to be played before the prospect of this becomes a reality, but for now he’s still in the hunt. The opportunity to put another massive tick on his career bucket – which never seems to stop – is still very real.

While you’d never write him off, his performance in beating Barry Hawkins 6-3 to reach this weekend’s semi-finals at the Masters was far from vintage. In fact, it was shoddy. Concerning? Maybe. But we’ve seen too many times before how O’Sullivan can flick a switch and produce the goods when it matters most.

The bigger question remains. Is Ronnie still winning these matches because he’s programmed to do it or maybe his opponents are not as good as they once were. Or is his presence on the table just so great that not enough of the top players around him have the chops to see him off.

It’s an intriguing tale and one which is hardly the picture of consistency. We need to cut him some slack. The Rocket is 48 and the perfect season is still very much up for grabs. A chance to pot the lot and hold all the Triple Crown titles remains within his gift.

Next up for O’Sullivan is Shaun Murphy. These old rivals haven’t met for a few years now – and never at the Masters – but the fact there’s no love lost between them could be just what Ronnie needs to come back firing.

So what’s in store this weekend? Will Sunday night be another episode marvelling at the achievement of a man who is unrivalled at the top of his sport, or will someone step up to spoil the narrative?
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