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Crucible crown in Rocket’s sights after sixth Masters title

Lee Gormley | January 18, 2016

Rocket ready for Crucible bid after Masters win

Ronnie O’Sullivan levelled Stephen Hendry’s record of six Masters titles after storming to an emphatic 10-1 final victory over Barry Hawkins at Alexandra Palace, with this year’s World Championship now firmly in his sights.

Dafabet Masters 2016 - Day Eight - Alexandra Palace

‘The Rocket’ was contesting in his first televised event since last April, when he lost to world champion Stuart Bingham at the Crucible, and proved his permanent class again as he rallied to the joint-highest ever Masters final winning margin.

O’Sullivan’s dominant nine-frame triumph over Hawkins equalled Steve Davis’ 9-0 win over Mike Hallett back in 1988, and the five-time Crucible king is now 2/1 favourite with Coral to add to his world championship honours later this year.

Hawkins no match for master O’Sullivan

The newly-crowned Masters champion had previously demolished Hawkins 18-12 in their Crucible final match-up in 2013, when ‘the Rocket’ successfully defended his crown, before handing ‘the Hawk’ another baize thumping in London.

Dafabet Masters 2016 - Day Eight - Alexandra Palace

Welsh potter Mark Williams took the eventual winner to a deciding frame in their opening round meeting, but O’Sullivan was hardly troubled since, dispatching both world number one Mark Selby and world champion Bingham before thrashing Hawkins.

Despite having been out of competitive action for eight months, the now six-time Masters winner admitted he was surprised at prevailing in the capital after his hiatus.

“I am over the moon. I knew I needed to raise my level,” stated O’Sullivan after triumphing. “I was able to do that and I managed my emotions well. I am delighted to play as well I have done.

“I am never normally surprised when I win…”

“I am never normally surprised when I win tournaments but I am surprised I have won it after eight months out. It is about producing when it matters.

Dafabet Masters 2016 - Day Eight - Alexandra Palace

“Dr Steve Peters [O’Sullivan’s psychiatrist] mentioned a couple of things and I just had to focus on each ball. If Barry played like he did in the semis, it would have been a great match.”

After levelling another Hendry record with his latest silverware coup, O’Sullivan is continuing to revel in success despite reaching 40 years of age, when many top cueists seemingly suffer a decline in form, and the latter Scot’s tally of seven world titles will now be high on priorities.

“This is only a week, but to keep your focus for 17 days at the World Championship is a grind,” he continued. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Can anybody stop ‘the Rocket’?

O’Sullivan’s grace and elegance around the Alexandra Palace table was a joy to behold once again, proving why he is snooker’s main attraction in front of a sold-out 2k-capacity crowd, and his undemanding path to a returning Masters success will be a worry to fellow cueists.

If ‘the Rocket’ was able to comeback from an eight-month absence and triumph, having done the same at the Crucible in 2013, who’s to say he cannot clinch another world title and edge closer to Hendry’s esteemed record?

Dafabet Masters 2016 - Day Five - Alexandra Palace

World number one Selby was quite comfortably edged out by O’Sullivan in the quarter-final and is 9/1 for a second Crucible crown, while Judd Trump, regarded as the long-term leading light for the sport, is 7/1 to clinch his maiden Sheffield trophy.

Australian Neil Robertson rallied to Champion of Champions and UK Championship victories last year and will enter the 2016 World Championship as 11/2 second-favourite behind ‘the Rocket’, but his recent tournament wins came in events O’Sullivan did not participate in.

Barry Hearn has tried and succeeded in helping build snooker’s reputation and attractiveness as a sport worldwide. But, with its main man O’Sullivan having strolled back into competitive matchplay to secure another Masters victory, is there a player that is truly ready to tame ‘the Rocket’s’ superiority in the coming seasons and prove it isn’t all just about this mercurial potting genius? We will see in April as all eyes are cast towards Sheffield once again.

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