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Snooker: Rocket coming in to land for 30th Crucible tilt

He's widely regarded as the greatest player to have ever picked up a cue and three decades after bursting on to the scene, Ronnie O'Sullivan is ready to light up The Crucible once more. 

O'Sullivan's statistics make for amazing reading. The six world titles, the seven Masters victories, seven more UK Championships, more century breaks than any other player, the youngest winner of a professional event - it's Hall of Fame stuff from a man who is 5/1 to add another stat to that list by winning this year's World Snooker Championship.

But The Rocket is far, far more than those mere numbers. Many snooker players have done lots of wonderful things during glittering careers - but there has only ever been, and only ever will be, one player quite like O'Sullivan.

A super showman, breathtakingly skilful, often regarded as the most naturally gifted player of them all, but also a man who is never afraid to speak his mind and if that means upsetting the game's authorities and disappointing his peers, then so be it.

His army of fans? Well they just adore him, warts and all, and they have done since the day he turned pro, and they'll be cheering him on once again in Sheffield over the coming days, imploring the game's biggest crowd-pleaser to turn on the style once more and become world snooker champion for a seventh time.

Most Crucible World Championship titles

NameNo. of titlesYears
Stephen Hendry71990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999 
Ronnie O'Sullivan62001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020
John Higgins41998, 2007, 2009, 2011
Mark Selby42014, 2016, 2017, 2021
Mark Williams32000, 2003, 2018

The boy who would be king

The world of sport remembers plenty of child prodigies and it was obvious to anyone who saw an emerging lad called Ronald Antonio O'Sullivan take to the baize in those earliest days that this kid was the real deal.

A club champion at the age of nine, a first century break aged 10, the British Under-16 champion at the tender age of 13 and then the big breakthrough at an invitational event in Stevenage when the fresh-faced 14-year-old beat then world No.34 Marcel Gavreau over five frames, clinching the win with a 120 break.

"That kid is unbelievable," gushed Gavreau. Two rounds later he beat Anthony Hamilton to win the tournament.

By now O'Sullivan, living in Chigwell, Essex and a big name in the Soho snooker scene, was heading only one way. He was 15 years and 98 days when he made his first 147 in a recognised tournament, the youngest player to achieve the feat, and shortly after, and still in his teens, turned professional.

Now he had his sights on the really big names – and they knew he was coming.

The changing of the guard

Steve Davis had ruled snooker during the 1980s, winning six world titles, countless other competitions, and often looking utterly invincible. And O'Sullivan thought the world of him.

There was a famous picture of a young Rocket getting a selfie with Davis at an Italian restaurant when O'Sullivan was just ten and five years later, now making waves in the amateur scene, he was asked down to Romford by Davis to play him.

Davis won - just - but saw the future and went on record to say this new young star had the potential to become the greatest ever.

And it didn't take long for Davis' words to start ringing true. Between 1992-1993 - in his first year in the circuit - The Rocket sent records tumbling.

He won 47 out of 76 matches, which included a winning streak of 38 successive victories, overhauling the previous best held by Stephen Hendry.

Hendry was also on the receiving end as Ronnie beat the Scot in the final of the UK Open in Preston to become the youngest winner of a world ranking event, aged just 17 years and 11 months.

Two rounds earlier, he had beaten Davis. It seemed somehow prophetic that in the space of two days he had beaten the two best players on the planet.

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The Rocket soars to new heights

O'Sullivan continued to break records, becoming the youngest winner of The Masters – aged 19 – in 1995 and two years later registering his first televised 147 break, the first of many and so memorable because it was (and still is) the quickest ever.

It took him just five minutes and eight seconds to skate round the table at the Crucible as a slack-jawed opponent, Mick Price, and TV audience of millions looked on in disbelief at what they were witnessing.

He won his first world title in 2001 and a third UK Championship title later that year to become world No.1 for the first time.

Twenty years later, with 38 ranking titles to his name and counting, 15 maximum breaks to his name and counting, he is still the biggest draw, the box-office superstar who fans of the sport want to see.

He comes with rough edges. His upbringing wasn't easy – both his parents were sentenced to jail time in his youth – and his laissez-faire verging on the contemptuous attitude to the sport, its organisers, even his fellow professionals is a source of irritation to many.

But with the rough you get the smooth, and there isn't a smoother, silkier, more sublime snooker player in the world than O'Sullivan, probably the greatest talent there has ever been and surely one who is destined for yet more Crucible glory.

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