Ronnie O’Sullivan moved level with fellow greats Steve Davis and Ray Reardon after surging past Kyren Wilson 18-8 to claim his sixth world snooker title at the Crucible.
Only Stephen Hendry’s seven crowns now stand between the 44-year-old and undisputed acclaim as the greatest player in the modern sport after he wrecked Wilson’s hopes of a final debut win.
Having cut a forlorn and frustrated figure through most of Saturday’s opening two sessions, O’Sullivan rediscovered his sparkle to win seven frames in a row in the afternoon session and turn a tense 10-7 overnight advantage into a one-sided inevitability.
Requiring a single frame for victory upon their return, O’Sullivan duly obliged in a way which encapsulated his final performance – a stunning break of 96 finished by a miscue on the final black.
As he lifted the title for a sixth time, there was a touch of irony in the fact that having fashioned his campaign in front of empty seats, his dominant finish deprived those who had been granted a reprieve any more than the most perfunctory of coronations.
In truth it was not a final befitting a tournament which must go down as one of the most dramatic on record, culminating in a pair of last-frame semi-finals from which it sporadically seemed both winners had emerged battered and on occasions, spent.
But the final scoreline did scant justice to Wilson, who frequently looked the most composed player through Saturday’s sessions, even when he fell 8-2 behind, and too often let himself down with simple missed pots and bad shot choices.
Wilson’s composed 73 proposed bad omens for O’Sullivan, who appeared unfocused and unhappy during much of Saturday, but it soon became clear that the favourite was much more settled, and ready to make his under-pressure opponent pay.
Wilson’s missed pink maintained a painful pattern which would persist throughout O’Sullivan’s seven-frame streak in the afternoon. With the kicks and bad bounces that marred much of Saturday’s play all but absent, he eased into the mid-session interval 13-8 in front.
The interval did little to improve the outlook for Wilson, who had been the last player to enter this year’s tournament following the unprecedented decision by his first round opponent Anthony Hamilton to withdraw from the tournament due to coronavirus concerns.
Instead, there was one more frame in which O’Sullivan could extend the agony, leaving him with the simplest of tasks to confirm the title when they returned for the evening session.
It was not the kind of classic ending fans have come to expect of the World Championship final since the halcyon days of the 1980s when black balls were overcut and the likes of Davis and Reardon reigned supreme.
But no player since has been as captivating as O’Sullivan, whose sixth win underscored his ability to not only see off his emerging foe, but to win a very public personal battle to justify his status as being among and even above the game’s all-time greats.
He said: “I never really think about titles. As a kid I never dreamed I’d be here, I was playing for the fun of the game.
“But to be here and to have had all those victories, is a dream but it’s also coming a bit of a reality so it’s nice to be living your dream.”
His last title win came seven years ago but he said he would never say never about adding another, he said: “There was a part of me that decided that I didn’t play enough – and I still probably don’t play enough – to justify winning a tournament of this stature. It is an endurance test and I’m not really an endurance-type snooker player.
“The lockdown gave me the chance to play on some good tables which was great and I came here feeling comfortable with my tools so I had half a chance – but I never expected to win it to be honest with you.”
O’Sullivan was delighted to add the trophy to his long list of achievements in the sport but reserved praise for his final opponent who he backed for future success in the tournament.
He added: “Any world title you win’s got to be up there. It’s great to be able to win over the 17 days here. You come here, you’ve got to play a lot of solid shots and be solid in all departments. Even though I felt I might not have done that, I must have done because these guys are too good on tour to give it to you.
“I just want to say Kyren’s a top, top player and he’s improving all the time. When he fell off the tour (I knew) he was always going to get back on the tour.
“When you’ve got that desire and that hunger and belief in your ability – you might have to work in a bar for a bit or do bits and pieces – but deep down, the fire’s burning bright and you get there in the end.
“He is a winner and he will win this tournament one day… not to put too much pressure on him. He’s a country mile above everyone else around his age. His time is definitely going to come.”