Ronnie O’Sullivan superbly fought back from behind to beat Barry Hawkins 11-9 and claim the Shanghai Masters for the second successive season in China.
The Englishman lifted the trophy aloft ten months ago when it was last staged as a ranking event and duly repeated the trick in its reincarnation as a lucrative invitational.
The mammoth £200,000 cheque that O’Sullivan pockets stands as the third highest prize on the calendar and the richest for an invitation tournament in the sport.
Accumulating huge earnings and picking up prestigious titles have become second nature to O’Sullivan throughout his career, but he was made to work hard as he landed his latest piece of silverware.
Hawkins went into the contest against O’Sullivan after fighting back in impressive fashion to deny home favourite Ding Junhui in a thrilling semi-final finish on Saturday that went the distance and the 39 year-old again had the majority of the crowd against him in Sunday’s showdown for glory.
But Hawkins, who lost to O’Sullivan in the finals of both the 2013 World Snooker Championship and the 2016 Masters, began the encounter excellently, constructing a brilliant 125 break to take the opening frame.
The world number seven led all the way through a thoroughly entertaining opening session that boasted a flurry of sizable contributions from both contenders and Hawkins ended it with a well-deserved 6-4 advantage.
Yet, it was always going to be difficult for him to sustain such a high level of performance in what represented one of the biggest occasions of his career and, once the “Rocket” launched the afterburners at the start of the second session, mistakes in the game of Hawkins began to creep in.
O’Sullivan, who had only lost twice before to his opponent, reeled off runs of 64, 61, 56, and 113 to win all four frames before the last mid-session interval and transform his two-frame deficit into an 8-6 lead.
Hawkins, who won the last three frames with one-visit snooker to beat Ding in the last four, compiled a timely 83 to stop the rot and he was in first with an opportunity in the next frame to restore parity but broke down, allowing O’Sullivan to respond with an 83 in kind to edge closer to the title.
After O’Sullivan won another to move to within the brink of victory, Hawkins capitalised on a rare scrappy period – in what was otherwise a punch and counter-punch battle – to reduce the arrears back to just one.
But a terrible subsequent break-off shot from Hawkins gifted O’Sullivan an opening that he gratefully converted with a magnificent century to clinch it in style.
It’s another remarkable triumph for O’Sullivan, who remember was making his first appearance of the 2018/19 campaign after taking the best part of half a year away from the game competitively.
The 42 year-old becomes the first player to win the Shanghai Masters three times and the hat-trick couldn’t come at a more appropriate time, in its revamped format that boasts such a rich purse.
Indeed, O’Sullivan has proven over the years that he loves these kinds of competitions, especially in recent seasons via regular successes in the Masters and the Champion of Champions, which involve only the very elite competing.
O’Sullivan has hinted this week that he won’t be taking part in as many ranking events as he did during the last term, when he claimed a record-equalling five trophies, but it doesn’t seem to effect his form much or the amount of success that he is enjoying in what ought to be the twilight years of his career.
Since the start of last season, O’Sullivan has entered 16 tournaments, reached the final in half of those, and walked away having etched his name six further times into the history books.
For Hawkins, it’s another sense of what could have been but he again proved his worth as one of the world’s very best players – he’ll just be hoping that the next time he finds himself in a major final O’Sullivan won’t be the man he has to overcome.
The latter wasn’t even at his very best this week but still managed to sweep all aside, once again underlining the enviable talent that he possesses and suggesting that any decline in his standard is a long way off yet.