Ronnie O’Sullivan won his fifth ranking title of 2017/18 – equalling the record for the most in a single season – by beating Shaun Murphy 10-4 in the final of the Ladbrokes Players Championship.
O’Sullivan was not at his best in the final in Llandudno, failing to score a single century break, but made several crucial clearances, winning five frames from at least 23 points behind, and that swung the contest in his favour.
Having already landed the English Open, Shanghai Masters, UK Championship and Ladbrokes World Grand Prix crowns this season, O’Sullivan matches the record of five in a single campaign, set by Stephen Hendry in 1990/91 and equalled by Ding Junhui in 2013/14 and Mark Selby in 2016/17. O’Sullivan has played in ten ranking events this season, winning half of them, and has taken the title every time he has reached the semi-final stage.
The £125,000 top prize takes O’Sullivan’s earnings for 2017/18 to £798,500, the second highest ever in one season, with Selby’s record of £932,000 within his sights. Indeed O’Sullivan could break the £1 million barrier by winning next month’s China Open even before he heads to the World Championship.
The 42-year-old’s career total of ranking titles now stands at 33, just three behind Hendry’s record of 36. In his current form and frame of mind, O’Sullivan could surpass all of Hendry’s records by the time he retires.
He remains second in the world rankings but closes the gap on first place, and could go to the Crucible next month with a chance to take the top spot from Mark Selby, who has held it for over three years.
Murphy has now lost all four of the ranking finals he has contested this season including the UK Championship where he lost 10-5 to O’Sullivan, though he did win the invitational Champion of Champions with a 10-8 defeat of the Rocket.
O’Sullivan led 6-3 after the first session and extended his advantage in the opening frame tonight, coming from 43-0 down to take it with a 92 clearance. Murphy pulled one back with a superb 137 total clearance and he had a scoring chance in the next frame but missed the blue to a baulk corner when trailing 40-7, and O’Sullivan made 54 to go 8-4 ahead.
Again in frame 13 Murphy missed a ball at a key moment – a red to a centre pocket – and again O’Sullivan punished him as his run of 76 made it 9-4 at the interval. Murphy also had first scoring opportunity in the 14th but could only make 23, and O’Sullivan’s 85 took him past the winning post.
“Shaun didn’t play as well today as he did in the semi-finals which was a shame for the final,” said O’Sullivan. “I kept the pressure on and played decent snooker. In a lot of the frames he got in first but he kept breaking down on 40 or 50 and I made some good clearances. I did what I had to do although I didn’t have my scoring boots on. I feel quite drained because I put a lot of effort into the match.
“I have played better in other seasons but not won as many titles. I am pacing myself in terms of which tournaments I play in and travel to, and I have cut down on practice in order to just play when I feel like it. It seems to be working at the moment.”
Asked about chasing Hendry’s record of 36 ranking titles, O’Sullivan responded: “I think it is well achievable to beat it. I always thought that record was more realistic for me than the world titles (he has five to Hendry’s seven). There are still a few records to go for. I think I will pass on winning seven or eight world titles. To get to 1,000 centuries would be a good one and to win 37 ranking events would be nice.
“It would be great to win the world title but I’ll just go out there and play on my terms and if it comes, it comes. I’ve had a fantastic season anyway. If I play my best game then it’s probably only John Higgins and Mark Selby who can play at the same level.
“The crowds here in Llandudno have been fantastic. This is one of our best tournaments and I hope it stays here.”
Murphy, who has been affected by an injury which causes pain in his back and neck for the past few weeks, said: “To come here with no preparation and to have had a chance to take the trophy home on the last night against the best player ever – I have to count the week as a success. Obviously I would much rather have the trophy than the runner-up medal. I have had a very consistent season and there are two massive events to go.
“It was frustrating today because I have had matches against Ronnie where I have been swamped, but today I had chances to win almost every frame. Somehow I managed to lose a lot of frames I should have won. In the end I simply wasn’t clinical enough. Scrapping it out in the trenches when the balls are messy and the colours are safe is still the weakness in my game. My general safety has improved and my scoring has always been good. But in those scrappy frames I’m not as good as the likes of Mark Selby.
“Without doubt Ronnie can win more than 36 ranking titles. Stephen Hendry will probably go home and try to work out which records he still holds, because he might not have them for much longer! When Ronnie is in the right frame of mind he is the best.
“I’m looking forward to the China Open now although the journey won’t do me any favours and I’ll need to have some physiotherapy in the days leading up to it. Then looking ahead to the World Championship, I think if I keep my form going I might have a decent run in Sheffield.”