Snooker: Lack of talent below Ronnie O'Sullivan, says Stephen Hendry


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The Independent Online

Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry has bemoaned the inability of the game's leading players to challenge Ronnie O'Sullivan's dominance.

Hendry, the most successful player ever to have picked up a cue, believes this year's World Championship is being handed to O'Sullivan – who says that this will be his last major tournament – far too easily.

"It's up to the other players to try and get to his level," Hendry said. "As Ronnie has said himself, there's been a different winner of every ranking tournament and no one has taken up the mantle to be the governor.

"Mark Selby has always had a good season. He's won more than one tournament, but he and the other players are not playing anywhere near the level of snooker Ronnie is playing here.

"Mark has done excellently to win the tournaments he has [the Masters and UK Championship], but by his own admission he's not played top snooker to win them. If you look at [John] Higgins and, although you don't want to say he's a spent force, he's not the player he was.

"[Mark] Williams is the same. You look at the top players coming in as favourites. Well, there was [Neil] Robertson who flattered to deceive. Ding [Junhui] again has been a failure this year. He was my tip to win it. Selby, he was looking for the triple crown [Masters, UK and World titles in the same season], but he faltered. You have to say the other players are handing it to Ronnie on a plate."

O'Sullivan has hardly had to apply himself in winning three matches to reach the semi-finals, and Hendry is glad to see him back in the game after his self-imposed year off. "Any tournament without the best player is devalued in my eyes whether they [the other players] like it or not. When he was out it was like having Tiger Woods out.

"People were saying the game doesn't need Ronnie because the standard of the top players is so high now. But that's nonsense. The game needs its best player – and the other players need him to raise their game."

O'Sullivan did not have it all his own way today, though, as Judd Trump fought back from 4-1 down to level at 4-4 after the first session of their best-of-33 frame semi-final.

O'Sullivan fired in breaks of 65, 75 and 89 on his way to the three-frame cushion, and looked then a strong favourite to secure an overnight lead.

But 23-year-old Trump, who said prior to the match that he would not be scared of O'Sullivan, proved good to his word as he gutsily fought back.

Meanwhile, Steve Davis believes O'Sullivan's admission that he returned to snooker just for the money could be considered "disrespectful".

Davis said: "We know Ronnie O'Sullivan's interviews are a bit like the British weather: they're changeable. But there's a dilemma for the snooker fan. They love what comes off the end of his cue; they sometimes hate what comes out of his mouth because it is sometimes disrespectful to snooker."

Jostling for the right to take on O'Sullivan or Trump are Chester's Ricky Walden and Kent's Barry Hawkins, who began their semi-final on Thursday evening.

Theirs is perhaps the most unlikely final-four pairing since Nigel Bond took on Andy Hicks in 1995, and Walden hit the front as he seized a 6-2 lead.

Hawkins had speculated that he might struggle with the pressure of the Crucible's semi-final set-up, featuring only one table in the arena and the gaze of the entire audience on the match. So it proved, as he had a best break of only 19 in the opening four frames - one of which he somehow won - while Walden looked sharp and had runs of 91, 105 and 119 as he looked ready for the big stage.