In the first edition of the Masters since the trophy was named after the late Paul Hunter, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Joe Perry did battle in the wonderful atmosphere of the Alexandra Palace, the current home of this prestigious tournament. This was to be Ronnie ‘the Rocket’ O’Sullivan’s twelfth Masters final, whilst it was Perry’s first major final. Perry is known as one of the nicest players on the tour, and was a clear underdog, despite being ranked higher than O’Sullivan. Paul Hunter would indeed have been proud of what was witnessed, in a crowd which included his parents, former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Ronnie’s great friend Damien Hurst. Ronnie was undoubtedly the favourite for the match, not least since he won last year’s final 10-1 against Barry Hawkins, with the BBC pundits, including John Parrot and Steve Davis, not giving the underdog much of a chance to produce an unlikely victory.
Perry started off the match the better of the two, leading 4-1 after some smart, confident and smooth snooker play where he scored 79 or higher in all four winning frames. This included the fifth frame, ending 115-0, which saw Perry take a handsome lead of three frames. However, as Paul Hunter did in all three of his Master’s finals, Ronnie produced a stunning comeback. Indeed, he made it 4-4 going into the evening session, where he won the first four frames to take an insurmountable 8-4 lead. However, a 117 break and another impressive 92 gave Perry the next two frames, creeping slowly behind his opponent before a masterclass in potting for Ronnie, in which he scored 130 points, meant Ronnie only needed one more frame and Perry still needed a further four to win one of the greatest titles in world snooker. Ronnie indeed ended up winning 10-7, beating Stephen Hendry’s record of 6 Masters Titles. Ronnie is undoubtedly still the greatest.
Elsewhere in the tournament, it was a disappointing first round exit for Messrs John Higgins, Stuart Bingham, Shaun Murphy and Judd Trump. Naturally, in a tournament which is exclusively for the top 16, some of the best players in the world will get knocked out in their first encounter. However, Bingham and Murphy only won one frame each. Trump was unlucky against former finalist Marco Fu, whilst Higgins will especially be aggrieved having gone into the tournament with the belief that he could win after his resurgence throughout a season in which he has won several key events. Fu and Barry Hawkins both impressed, reaching the semi-finals. It was also disappointing for Neil Robertson and world number one Mark Selby who both lost at the quarter-final stage, losing 6-3 in their respective matches.
Any analysis of a Masters tournament, cannot be done without mentioning the late, great, Paul Hunter. The man from Leeds passed away in 2006 from neuroendocrine tumours less than a week before his 28th birthday. The ‘Beckham of the Baize’ won three out of the four Masters tournaments played between 2001 and 2004, reaching the semi-final of the other. He is truly missed by everyone involved in the game, with the Paul Hunter Foundation growing from strength to strength: it is a foundation aiming to bring snooker to the masses in memory of Paul Hunter. Snooker is in a good place at the moment because there is a huge range of talent and role models to aspire to be: O’Sullivan, Selby, Murphy, Fu, Bingham and Trump are among many others who aspire to win the annual triumvirate of major titles. Despite this, snooker is never going to be the same without Paul. As Barry Hearn stated, the organisation messed up by not naming the trophy after him sooner. This first edition since the renaming did not disappoint: as for Ronnie O’Sullivan, who falls in and out of love of the game he has unquestionably conquered, he is living testament to prove the clichéd phrase that ‘form is temporary and class is permanent’, absolutely correct.
With the World Championships in Sheffield, at the home of snooker the Crucible in late April, there are a plethora of stars who could lay claim to being amongst the favourites of the tournament. But there is one unique player, the likes of which we are fortunate to witness. Next challenge for Ronnie: to beat Stephen Hendry’s record for World Championship titles. And with the form he is in, you wouldn’t bet against it.
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