John Higgins, Graeme Dott, twice Ali Carter and last year Barry Hawkins – no challenger had ever toppled Ronnie O’Sullivan at a Crucible final until Mark Selby came along.
The Rocket’s 100 per cent record in snooker’s World Championship was shattered by a truly remarkable comeback from Selby, who at one point on Sunday had seemed the bit-part player to a procession.
But crucially Selby – the self-proclaimed ‘Jester from Leicester’ – had the weekend’s last laugh, pegging the score back to 10-7 to give himself a chance of catching the sport’s most infamous frontrunner.
And on Bank Holiday Monday world No.3 Selby cashed in to a tune of £300,000 by winning 13 of the last 17 frames and emerging the 18-14 victor, fittingly sinking a frame-ball black to decide a truly titanic encounter.
O’Sullivan had once dubbed Selby ‘the Torturer’ and he certainly put the screws on the Rocket in the course of his turnaround, one frame stopping just shy of 50 minutes in the third session.
But O’Sullivan was magnanimous in defeat in Sheffield and admits Selby’s measured style of play did little to help his failed pursuit of a sixth World Championship title.
“If you buy a raffle ticket and sign up to be a top snooker player, you accept the losses and the wins and you can’t have it all your own way all the time,” said O’Sullivan.
“I’ve had some great victories and losing is part of the sport, and you just have to accept that as part and parcel. You have to go away, lick your wounds and come back and try to go one better.
“It wasn’t the most free-flowing of scoring, there was a lot of long safety bouts and I just got dragged into it really.
“I tried to make something happen, I tried to open the balls up a few times, but if you try and force something to happen it never quite does.
“Everything I did he had an answer for and more. I was finding it hard to put the momentum together, at some points I felt numb out there because I was sitting in my chair for long periods of time.
“I felt great at 10-5, I was in the balls and I missed the black off its spot. That was huge because he won the last two frames for 10-7.
“You know with Mark you can never count him out. I think he was 12-4 down to Higgins when he got to the final [in 2007] and he made a match of that, he’s the type of player that seems to thrive when he’s behind.
“He’s a modern day Cliff Thorburn if you like, he’s never going to give in, he’s a winner and you know what you’re up against.
“You have to stick in for as long as you can and if you start missing balls and make mistakes, he’ll keep putting you in trouble.”
O’Sullivan however clearly remains at the peak of his powers, his defeat coming off the back of two successive world titles secured at his belligerent best.
He will be 39 this year – only two former champions, John Spencer and Ray Reardon, have won snooker’s blue-riband in their 40s – but the Rocket hints he will be back for more.
“I’m over the moon, I’ve had a fantastic run here,” he added. “Three years ago I wasn’t even contemplating playing let alone talking about beating Steve Davis or Stephen Hendry’s record, so you have to have perspective on certain things.
“If I take myself out of it and look from above, I’m very content. Maybe it can be misconstrued as someone who doesn’t want it but I try my hardest and would love to have more world titles.
“I’ve got no complaints and I’ve had a good tournament. I’ve got no crystal ball, if I did I could give you the stats and this and that, but I’m just enjoying myself and I’ve had a good run here.
“I’ve enjoyed the tournaments I’ve played in this year and I just wished I could have finished it off with a win. It’s disappointing but I’ve tried my best."
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