You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium of the Crucible Theatre, the enthralled crowd held their breath with anticipation and within seconds suddenly a star was born.
In the 2001 World Championship final, ‘Rocket’ Ronnie O’Sullivan slotted in an easy pink to beat John Higgins 18-14 claiming the first world title of his career. The ‘Come on Ronnie’ chants echoed long into the night and I wonder did the Sheffield crowd that night know they were witnessing the start of something so very special. The Rocket had become the new face of snooker, the player who draws the big crowds and the icon who would effectively carry the game for so many years just like the late great Alex Higgins used to.
You don’t have to look much further than Ronnie O’Sullivan when you want to figure out how to clinch frames in one visit or how to perform at the highest level so consistently for many years. The key to snooker is practice, practice and more practice but as the top players always say; you need natural talent too.
It is easy to teach a player the fundamentals involved in playing reverse side of the cushion, finishing nicely on the black to open the reds but the ‘pupil’ needs to be able to see the shot and know instinctively the right time to strike the cue ball. They need to be able to feel the shot and know how they are going to manage the transition from the stance to executing power from the wrist/forearm.
All of the top 64 players have the potential to win the World Championships, most of them have the armory in their game to play any shot at any given time. However, this is where the term ‘one visit snooker’ separates the best from the rest. If you give Ronnie O’Sullivan or Mark Selby an easy starter and the balls in decent positions nine times out of ten they will clear up but if the exact same chance was presented to someone at the bottom end of the top 64, it may more like three out of ten.
That is the difference, the ability to hold your nerve and just do the simple things right is a huge part of the game. Over a short format – best of seven frames – there is every chance to beat the top players but over the longer format – best of 19 – the top players are favourites as they’re experienced in that environment and can usually phase out the TV cameras and the audience.
Currently, there are so many good players on the tour and for the last number of years we have seen so many new faces doing well in tournaments but at what stage do we see the new breed coming through?
The answer is a simple one when players get used to the big stage the live audience. It is vital that the new players coming through can replicate their practice form on to the match table, although it’s not that simple.
Mindset is key and not letting the big occasion get the best of you, time and time again we see players going to bits when they see the winning line, suddenly they forget they’re Ronnie O’Sullivan or Jimmy White and imagine they’re big ‘Dave’ in the local club who couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo. All thought and processes go out the window.
This is understandable, it’s human nature but to get into the elite pool of players you need to be able to combat this, that’s what truly seperates the rockets from the rest of us.
By Gareth McGrattan – follow Gareth on Twitter @GarethMcGrattan