On Sunday, 15 September 2019, the 43-year-old English professional snooker player, “Rocket” Ronnie O’Sullivan, just became the first snooker player ever in the history to win the championship of Shanghai Masters (上海大师赛) in three consecutive years (namely, 2017, 2018 and 2019; O’Sullivan also previously won the championship of this event in 2009). He beat his English compatriot, 37-year-old “Magician” Shaun Murphy in the final game by 11-9 (“best of 21 frames” rule for the final).
Looking back, “Rocket” O’Sullivan’s road to the final was thrilling and even breathtaking. After a sweeping victory (6-0) over the amateur Zhang Yi from China, O’Sullivan faced a great challenge and was pushed to the edge in the quarter-final, in which he played with 27-year-old Kyren Wilson, who is also from England.
“Rocket” O’Sullivan was once down by 1-5; his opponent, Kyren Wilson was within one frame to the win the game. Stunningly, O’Sullivan then made his comeback by winning 5 frames in a row, and eliminated Wilson by the narrowest margin (6-5).
Again, in the semi-final game with 37-year-old Neil Robertson from Australia, “Rocket” O’Sullivan got into a similar predicament, down by 1-3 at the early stage, and then 4-5 at the half. With a 6-1 run, O’Sullivan made the comeback again and won the semi-final by 10-6. His opponent, the poor Neil Robertson, has suffered a five-consecutive loss to “Rocket” O’Sullivan, including this one.
Notably, “Rocket” O’Sullivan’s opponent in the final, 37-year-old “Magician” Shaun Murphy, has been performing particularly well in games of recent days leading up to the final. Shaun Murphy, who has bounced back from a disastrous six “1st-round” trips during the previous 2018-19 season, managed to reach the finals of various tournaments this season though without winning a title.
And on “Magician” Murphy’s side, his ascension to the Shanghai Masters final appeared to be more smooth compared with O’Sullivan’s. He defeated Lv Haotian from China, Mark Williams from Wales, Jack Lisowski from England, and then Mark Allen from Northern Ireland. Except for the game with “Golden Left-hand” Mark Williams, in which he did not win until the final frame, Murphy did not face too much resistance in all the other games before the final.
Previously, “Magician” Murphy and “Rocket” O’Sullivan had competed directly with each other in various tournaments for a total of 18 times, and O’Sullivan had a dominating upper-hand with the record of 13 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw. The most recent encounter between the two sides was in the semi-final of the Champion of Champions (冠中冠赛) last season, in which O’Sullivan beat Murphy by 6-3.
The final game on Sunday took the “best of 21 frames” system. During the game, “Magician” Murphy once led by 3-0 in the beginning frames, while O’Sullivan made a 4-frame win streak to take back the lead; then Murphy won another two frames in a row to lead again at 5-4; the two sides tied at 5-5 after the first stage of the game.
In the second stage, the two sides continued to exchange the lead back and forth until 7-6 (Murphy on the left). At this critical moment, the familiar episode happened again, for O’Sullivan. From the frame 14, “Rocket” O’Sullivan made a 4-frame win in a row, including two centuries (单杆过百), leading Murphy by 10-7 and only one-frame win from the title.
In return, “Magician” Murphy made a 2-frame smallest win streak to narrow the gap to 9-10, threatening to take the game to a final frame. However, a mistake he made in frame 20 eventually cost him the whole game, and also the championship. “Rocket” O’Sullivan grasped the opportunity and made his way to the end of the 20th frame, concluding the final with 11-9. This was O’Sullivan’s 72nd career title and his first final win in the new season.
After the final game, “Rocket” O’Sullivan said to the reporters that it was a very tough final game, and he felt great to defend the championship and win the title again. He also pointed out that, snooker players such as Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson among others, are all excellent in their skills, and their degrees of accuracy are even higher. O’Sullivan considered his performance during the games would depend a lot on his “state” at the time.
He further commented on himself, “I’m not the greatest snooker player in the world right now, but I’m probably a very consistent player and I have kept myself competing to win on the court.”
As for the winners’ prize money, “Rocket” O’Sullivan eventually received £200,000 for the championship, and Shaun Murphy got the £100,000 runners-up prize. But by winning this non-ranking event title from Shanghai Masters, O’Sullivan would still rank second in the world behind the 30-year-old reigning World Champion Judd Trump from England, leaving us more expectations for O’Sullivan’s further endeavor in this season.