Ronnie O’Sullivan last night completed an astonishing comeback to the sport by claiming his fifth World Snooker Championship title with an 18-12 victory over Barry Hawkins.
The capacity Crucible Theatre audience was treated to a final of very high quality as O’Sullivan was valiantly pushed by his underdog opponent.
Yet, the result was never really in doubt as the ‘Rocket’ was able to find gears that arguably no player on the circuit is able to conjure when under extreme pressure.
This was justified by the fact that the two of the entertaining encounter’s most crucial moments came when O’Sullivan edged a brace of important frames on the final black.
The first came at the conclusion of the second session when, at 9-7, O’Sullivan’s steely pot was the difference between an overnight lead of just one and what ultimately transpired to be three frames.
Similarly, the defending champion’s 55 clearance when 54 behind to win the 20th frame and open up a four frames cushion for the first time was telling in the player’s brilliance when up against it.
Hawkins, to his credit, battled hard throughout and never wilted despite many predicting that the Kent cueist would succumb to a defeat with a session to spare.
Far from it, and when he won the opening two frames of the final session to trail by only 15-12 the 34 year-old was still in with a slim chance.
But breaks of 77, 88 and 86 were enough to give Ronnie a deserved fifth title, ensuring he is now only one behind Steve Davis and Ray Reardon, while two adrift of Stephen Hendry’s record of seven.
This victory should go down as O’Sullivan’s greatest achievement. Like last year, the Chigwell performer was rarely tested.
However, unlike last year, Ronnie had entered the tournament having contested only one competitive match in over eleven months.
Many critics will question the quality of his challengers as one top player after another faded dismally in the early rounds.
But to do so would be to neglect the fact that O’Sullivan all but steamrollered everyone that was put in his path – doing so with often mesmerising snooker.
O’Sullivan compiled a record six centuries in the final – Hawkins chipped in with a pair of his own – and although his attacking play has been visible for all to see down through the years, his tactical nous and temperament during this edition of the championship was exemplary.
So what now?
Well, not even Ronnie O’Sullivan knows the answer to that question so for any of us pundits to weigh in with our opinion would almost be naïve and foolish at this point.
O’Sullivan practically retired and unretired in that tournament alone so what lies for the future is really down to his state of mind at any given moment.
He is contracted to play in some tournaments next season and will hopefully fulfill those obligations.
Whether or not he will return to continue his reign in Sheffield remains to be seen, and is a question we may not know the answer to for quite some time.
Nevertheless, he completely deserves this moment and indeed the limelight within the sport as the best and most naturally gifted player ever.
For Hawkins, there are so many positives to take from a remarkable journey that took him from being an 80/1 outsider to within almost touching distance of lifting the iconic trophy.
The Australian Open champion defeated world no.1 Mark Selby and Chinese favourite Ding Junhui to reach the semi-finals, where he fought from behind to oust Wuxi Classic winner Ricky Walden.
Hawkins didn’t run out of steam in the final – in fact he probably saved his best snooker for last – but simply ran into a phenomenon that hardly anybody can live with when he is in this kind of form.
To win 12 frames and to be so close for so long was an achievement in itself and not one to be sniffed at.
Hawkins should carry this confidence forward into next season because now he will rightfully be regarded as someone who can win multiple ranking events, not just for the solitary one he boasts right now.
And so ends another season in this snooker roadshow that has become so busy.
The players only have a few weeks before they return for the next campaign, which promises to be just as unpredictable as this one has been.
For the time being, though, everybody will be talking about one man and one man only: Ronnie O’Sullivan, who proudly remains king supremo of the Crucible.
The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.