Some things never change, some things stay the same.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is back on the summit of snooker with a performance that was so dominant, it suggests he has his sights trained on taking the World Championship record outright.
His seventh win, secured with a ruthless demolition of Judd Trump, took him level with Stephen Hendry - and left a clear feeling there is more in the tank at the age of 46.
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The Crucible is a slog, a survival of the fittest. It is rare for a player to dominate from start to finish. But aside from the opening three frames in his first-round match against David Gilbert, and a session on Monday when Trump threatened to make a game of the final, O’Sullivan was in complete control. Total dominance rarely seen on the highest stage.
Alan McManus said in the Eurosport studio that he’d got the feeling months earlier that O’Sullivan was working towards one goal: World Championship victory.
Looking at his season, McManus’ theory stands up to scrutiny.
He returned to the top of the world rankings on the back of one tournament win: the World Grand Prix in December. But that does not tell the whole story, as he reached the final of the European Masters, semi-finals of the Tour Championship, English Open and Scottish Open, and quarter-finals of the UK Championship and the Masters.
His performances in those events offered up moments of magic without truly catching fire - match practice in competitive environments with the aim of sharpening the tools for the big day. That big day, or 17 days to be precise, came in Sheffield and O’Sullivan was utterly ruthless.
His game has evolved from when he was dominating a decade ago, and the desire to play masses of matches and events is no longer there, but World Championship No. 7 was a clear indicator that he can peak at the right time.
And it is clear that peak O’Sullivan is a level ahead of everyone else in the game.
O'Sullivan is well known for tinkering with his game, but he may have stumbled on a winning formula so expect him to tread a similar path and produce a strong challenge for title number eighth in Sheffield in a little under 12 months’ time.
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World Snooker will be keen to emphasise that there is more to snooker than 16 days in Sheffield, so what should we expect away from the Crucible?
Zhao Xintong was the breakthrough player of last season, winning the UK Championship and German Masters.
O’Sullivan has said Xintong is the future of the game, and has been spending time working on aspects of his technique. Some players would be afraid of offering up advice to the next generation for fear of being knocked off their perch. O’Sullivan’s mind does not work like that, he is aware they are custodians of the game and have a duty to ensure the sport remains strong for years to come.
Xintong has his work cut out to replicate what he did last season, but the hunger to succeed is strong and he has the ability to swat players away - his 9-0 mauling of fellow countryman Yan Bingtao demonstrated this - and he will be challenging for top honours.
One thing to put to bed is the suggestion that Judd Trump had a poor time of things in 2021/22. Two titles and two other final appearances are the stuff of dreams for many. It’s the fact that the previous three seasons were so ridiculously good that it was felt he had a poor campaign.
Trump fed into that with his suggestion that he was no longer enjoying his snooker, but the run to the final at the Crucible set the fire burning again - and under the watchful eye of his brother, expect the 32-year-old to be hungry for success.
Kyren Wilson is probably sitting at home reflecting on whether he had walked under too many ladders or broken too many mirrors. The bare facts suggest it was a poor campaign for Wilson, with just one final and two semi-finals to his name.
But he played some of the best snooker of anyone, evidenced by 56 centuries, and on too many occasions he bumped into players who found form from nowhere (think Robert Milkins in the final of the Gibraltar Open).
Wilson has long talked about being in the elite bracket. To do that he needs to take charge of matches, but with a slight change of luck to the positive he could return to the winners’ circle early in the new season.
The previous season signed off with a narrative that whetted the appetite for more and expect a man who has been at the top of the sport for 30 years to continue to write his own stories. Some things never change.
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