Ronnie O’Sullivan claimed a thrilling fourth Shanghai Masters title in a row by gaining Crucible revenge on world champion Luca Brecel. But the world No 1 struggled to lift the trophy after a recurrence of the tennis elbow that has plagued him for a year – and admitted the problem was causing him a lot of pain.
O’Sullivan beat the game’s second-ranked player 11-9 at the Grand Stage to pocket £220,000 including a £10,000 high-break prize for a 143 in his first tournament of the season. The event marked the big return to China after three years in which snooker like so many other sports suffered strict lockdown in the country due to the Covid pandemic.
But though the 47-year-old O’Sullivan’s last success came in 2019 he extended his own winning streak to 18 matches in the city. Michael Holt was the last player to beat O’Sullivan in Shanghai in 2016, and he has now lifted the trophy five times there in total.
And O’Sullivan was also able to exorcise some demons against Brecel after the 28-year-old denied him the chance of a record eighth world title with a quarter-final win in Sheffield in April. O’Sullivan claimed earlier in the event that his form had been “useless and awful” for much of the past 18 months.
But he has found his magical best just when it mattered in this tournament. Against both John Higgins in the quarters and Mark Selby in the semis, O’Sullivan finished with back-to-back centuries. And he did the trick again last night, blasting in breaks of 143 – the highest of the event – and 120 to forge clear from 8-7 to 10-7.
O’Sullivan said: “It is my favourite tournament out of any on the calendar. It is brilliant to win it for a fourth time in a row. I tried my hardest out here and gave it my best with the top 16 players in the world plus some wildcards. It is the kind of event you really get excited about.
“And getting the high-break today brought it up to a nice £220,000 – but listen, I don’t play for the money but for the enjoyment. I do other stuff for money, what I get from snooker is a bonus. It all helps, though!
“It was a good occasion, but the conditions were very tough and the table was playing heavy. You had to time everything really well, and it could start playing tricks on you. So it was a bit shreds-ville at end out there at times.
“And I had a recurrence of my tennis elbow, it was killing me again. I’m going to have to get treatment on that again when I get home. When it flares up it is bad, I have had two injections over the last year. When it is sore I can’t pick up a cup of tea or frying pan.”
He added: “I am surprised that I won it, considering the level I thought my game was at. It is hard to analyse yourself but you get a sense. And my sense that my game wasn’t where it needed to be to win a tournament of this stature. But I have won lots of tournaments playing terrible, but found a way to win.
“I don’t think age is a thing although my eyes are not what they were and I might need to get glasses.” Brecel at least got away without having to get ‘his and hers’ tattoos with each other’s names in Chinese writing with girlfriend Laura – from a pre-tournament pact.