Ronnie O'Sullivan was the toast of Sheffield on Monday night as he beat Barry Hawkins 18-12 to become the first player for 17 years to make a successful defence of the World Championship.
The "Rocket" – who had taken almost a year out of the game – resumed with a commanding 15-10 lead for the last session of their best-of-35-frames final at snooker's showpiece tournament. And that meant the sport's box office star required only three more frames to secure an impressive fifth world title and the £250,000 prize.
O'Sullivan needed just over an hour to do that as he eased to victory against Hawkins, the world No 14, who produced a spirited performance in his first Crucible final. With victory O'Sullivan became the first player since Stephen Hendry, the seven-time world champion, in 1996 to make a successful world title defence.
"It's great to win it again, but I've really enjoyed it over the last few weeks," said O'Sullivan, who punched the air in delight after his victory.
"That's the hardest anyone has pushed me. I just hung in there. I just couldn't get him off me. My mood has been up and down like a whore's drawers, but I've had a great time coming back. I still love playing, but I do need other things to balance my life."
Hawkins won the opening frame of the afternoon, having returned 10-7 down, to reduce his arrears as he looked to mount a comeback. But O'Sullivan responded with breaks of 54 and 76 to restore his three-frame cushion and then moved four frames in front.
Hawkins missed a red to a corner pocket and O'Sullivan made a superb 55 clearance to pinch the frame on the final black. A break of 90 let Hawkins cut his lead to 12-9 before the mid-session interval, but O'Sullivan made a 133 break immediately after the resumption to maintain his dominance. And a 67 clearance put O'Sullivan five frames ahead for the first time as Hawkins' title hopes slipped.
The Ditton professional did pull back to 14-10, but O'Sullivan compiled another century, this time a 124 clearance, to finish a clear favourite to defend his title. That century, his sixth of the match, was the first time any player has compiled six centuries in a Crucible final in the 35 years it has been played at the iconic venue. Hendry, John Higgins and Matthew Stevens have all had five centuries in a world final, but O'Sullivan continues to set the benchmark.
Hawkins hit back with a fine 131 clearance in the first frame of the evening and then added a break of 66 to cut his arrears to three frames.
But O'Sullivan reeled off the next three frames with breaks of 77, 88 and 86 to complete a memorable comeback.
"I tried my hardest, but Ronnie's unbelievable," said Hawkins, who won £125,000. "I'm just glad I made some sort of game of it."
O'Sullivan threatened to quit again after this year's 17-day marathon, but his friend Jimmy White believes the unpredictable player will not give up. Six-time Crucible finalist White was the man who persuaded O'Sullivan to defend his title. "Ronnie will be back next year," said White. "I heard him turn round and say he loves snooker and that was music to my ears. He needs snooker and snooker needs him."
Rocket Ronnie: record-breaker
The last time a player made five tons in a Crucible final before O'Sullivan made six yesterday
O'Sullivan now has the most century breaks in Crucible history, one more than Stephen Hendry