Snooker: O'Sullivan needs consistency to match talent

Graeme Dott best summarised the doubts over whether Ronnie O'Sullivan can move forward from winning a second world title on Monday to build a body of work that stands genuine comparison with snooker's all-time greats. "Who knows what he's going to be like next week, let alone next year or in a few years?" asked Dott, who lost 18-8 to next season's world No1 in the World Championship final.

Graeme Dott best summarised the doubts over whether Ronnie O'Sullivan can move forward from winning a second world title on Monday to build a body of work that stands genuine comparison with snooker's all-time greats. "Who knows what he's going to be like next week, let alone next year or in a few years?" asked Dott, who lost 18-8 to next season's world No1 in the World Championship final.

The 26-year-old Scot had been asked whether he believed O'Sullivan could yet be called the best player ever. Dott replied that O'Sullivan "has everything", and is so good that, on form, he is unplayable. That is true, as some of O'Sullivan's performances, not least when beating Stephen Hendry 17-4 in The Crucible semi-finals, showed.

But then Dott said that he had always rated Hendry, the seven-times champion, as the most complete player. Would O'Sullivan, in Dott's opinion, one day overtake Hendry's tally? "I'd say no," Dott said.

When O'Sullivan himself was asked whether he felt he could reach a level of consistency to win a handful or more of world championships, he seemed to feel he had already proved it. "I'm No 1 in the world, No 1 on the order of merit, world champion. How much more consistent do you want?" he asked.

The answer to that is consistent enough to walk away with the number of titles that his natural talent deserves. Ray Reardon, the six-times former world champion who has been mentoring O'Sullivan lately, is tipping O'Sullivan - rather optimistically - to win 10 world titles.

"He is the most natural player I have ever seen," Reardon said, adding that he believes O'Sullivan can dominate snooker in the same way that he did in the 1970s, that Steve Davis did in the 1980s and that Hendry did in the 1990s.

"I've seen a lot of great pros - Joe and Fred Davis, John Pulman, John Spencer, Alex Higgins and I wasn't too bad myself," Reardon said. "The great Steve Davis dominated the 1980s and Stephen Hendry followed on with seven world titles and is a brilliant player - absolutely outstanding.

"But Ronnie is the most natural player I've ever seen in my life. He is superb. He is only 28 and I reckon he has got 10 world titles in him. He is sensational. He is going to take some stopping."

Reardon has also been instrumental in O'Sullivan playing more often left-handed and he is considering switching from his right-handed role for the 2004-2005 season if practice goes well in the summer.

"I couldn't understand why he didn't use his left hand more often because he plays so well with it. I said to him: 'God has given you this gift, Ronnie, use it'."

O'Sullivan has strongly hinted that he would like his partnership with Reardon to become permanent. "Ray Reardon has been great. I never watched Ray play but I can imagine his game must have been similar to mine for his era," O'Sullivan said. "In his day he would have been more like Stephen Hendry and myself, in liking to score heavy breaks, but with a touch of Steve Davis in there.

"He calls the game of snooker the safety side of it. I call snooker getting 100 breaks! So we both have different ways of seeing the game. But he respects my way of playing and I respect his way and his input has been invaluable.

"I'm not going to tell you what he says to me because that is private. It's professional stuff. It's M15 stuff. They don't disclose their secrets and I don't wish to disclose mine."

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