Ronnie O’Sullivan is known for having the odd mad moment in his snooker career – and none more so than at the UK Championship in 2006, writes Annette Lord.
At 4-1 down to Stephen Hendry in their best-of-17 quarter final, the Rocket missed a red during a break of 24 – what then followed stunned not just everyone at the venue but the entire world of snooker.
Instead of taking his seat again, O’Sullivan then shakes Hendry’s hand and that of referee Jan Verhaas, says he has had enough and walks out on the match.
Just like that, the match was over. Hendry, despite still needing another five frames to win, was through to the semi-finals
“It could have happened in any of my previous half dozen matches,” O’Sullivan revealed in his autobiography Running.
“Jo (his then partner) and I were going through a terrible time and my head was completely up my a**e. I didn’t want to be at the tournaments. To the outside world I looked in great nick – healthy, trim, fit – but I was in pieces.”
Snooker commentator Clive Everton could not believe what he was witnessing.
“I can’t believe he’s conceded the match,” he exclaimed as the cameras followed O’Sullivan’s departure from a packed York Barbican. “I’ve never seen anything like this in all the years I’ve been watching snooker.”
John Parrott, who won the World Championship in 1991, and Hendry himself were equally stunned when asked by Hazel Irvine their thoughts in the BBC studio.
“I don’t know what to say,” said an obviously puzzled Hendry, who went on to reach the final, losing 10-6 to Peter Ebdon.
“Ronnie’s obviously got his reasons and you can’t criticise someone else for how they feel, but it’s bizarre. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Parrott added: “He’s obviously got a problem because that’s not right, you just don’t do that.”
O’Sullivan publicly apologised for his behaviour but that didn’t stop him being fined £25,000 by snooker’s governing body.
Parrott later told BBC Sport: “Ronnie has a bit of time now over Christmas to go away and reflect on what he has done here, then maybe he can come back with a fresh approach. But if the game is making him miserable and he really doesn’t want to be there then maybe he should put his cue in the case and leave it there.”
Of course O’Sullivan bounced back, winning the UK Championship the following year and the Masters. He brought in psychologist Steve Peters to help him with his mental battles, and to date has won 15 ranking tournaments since that day memorable in 2006 – including three world titles and four UKs – plus five Masters.
He is undoubtedly one, if not the, best player of all time. But O’Sullivan’s walkout on Stephen Hendry remains one of the most bizarre matches ever.
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