Ronnie O’Sullivan 2016/2017 season: UK Championship runner-up and record seventh Masters title
O’Sullivan began the 2016/2017 season late, at the Shanghai Masters. In the first round, he defeated Liang Wenbo 5–4 after recovering from 1–4 down. It was his first professional tournament match in five months. However, this was as far as he progressed, as in the second round he lost by 2–5 to Michael Holt. Competing in the inaugural European Masters, O’Sullivan defeated David Gilbert 4–1 in the first round, Mark Allen 4–2 in the second round, Mark Davis 4–1 in the quarterfinals and then whitewashed Neil Robertson 6–0 in the semi-final. Facing Judd Trump in the final, O’Sullivan took a 5–3 lead after the first session. In the second session, O’Sullivan further led 8–6 before eventually losing 8–9. In the first of the Home Nations series of tournaments, at the inaugural English Open, O’Sullivan defeated Jimmy Robertson 4–0 in the first round, Zhao Xintong 4–3 in the second, but then lost to Chris Wakelin in the third by 3–4. At the International Championship, O’Sullivan beat Xiao Guodong 6–4 in the first round and Kurt Maflin 6–4 in the second to reach the last 16. However, he was then defeated by Michael Holt 4–6, making this the third consecutive loss to Holt in 2016.
O’Sullivan returned to action in the Champion of Champions. He won his group by defeating Robin Hull 4–2 in the first round and Martin Gould 6–2 in the second, and he then beat Mark Allen 6–2 in the semi-final with an impressive performance including three century breaks. O’Sullivan however could not reproduce the same form in the final and lost 7–10 to John Higgins. At the inaugural Northern Ireland Open, O’Sullivan defeated David John 4–1 in the first round, Jimmy White 4–1 in the second, and Zhang Anda 4–0 in the third. Kyren Wilson then edged out O’Sullivan 3–4 in the fourth round after O’Sullivan had staged a comeback with three consecutive century breaks after going 0–3 behind.
At the UK Championship, O’Sullivan produced dominant displays in the opening rounds defeating Boonyarit Keattikun 6–0 in the first, Rhys Clark 6–0 in the second and Michael Georgiou 6–1 in the third. He then beat Matthew Stevens 6–2 in the fourth round, Mark Williams 6–2 in the quarter-finals, and Marco Fu 6–5 in a tense semi-final, winning the deciding frame with a decisive break of 130. In the final, O’Sullivan played Mark Selby. In the first session after O’Sullivan went 2–1 up, Selby took advantage of errors by O’Sullivan to win 5 straight frames. However, in a high quality second session, O’Sullivan fought back to close to within one frame at 7–8, but Selby prevailed winning the next two frames and the title 7–10. In the last six frames of the match, a total of 5 century breaks were made, 2 by O’Sullivan of 134 and 130. This defeat marked the first time O’Sullivan had lost in a UK Championship final and the third consecutive defeat in a major final in this season.
O’Sullivan ended 2016 at the Scottish Open. He defeated Matthew Selt 4–2 in the first round, Adam Stefanow 4–1 in the second, Jimmy White 4–2 in the third and Mark Allen 4–2 in the last 16. He was then beaten 2–5 by John Higgins in the quarter-finals.
In the new year, O’Sullivan returned to the Masters as the defending champion. He defeated Liang Wenbo 6–5 in a dramatic first-round match. In the tenth frame, Liang missed the final black in a clearance which would have given him victory. After potting the black, O’Sullivan went on to produce a break of 121 in the deciding frame to win the match. O’Sullivan then beat Neil Robertson 6–3 in the quarter-finals, and Marco Fu 6–4 in the semi-finals to reach his twelfth Masters final despite problems with his cue tip. In the final, he defeated Joe Perry 10–7 to win his seventh Masters title, setting the record for the most number of title wins at the tournament. After the tournament, O’Sullivan received a disciplinary letter from World Snooker over comments he made to the press after his match with Fu. He criticised referee Terry Camilleri’s performance and a photographer during post-match interviews. This led to O’Sullivan stating that he would no longer give in-depth answers in interviews or press conferences, claiming “when I share my thoughts, I risk being fined”.
At the German Masters, O’Sullivan lost 4–5 to Mark King in the last 32 despite leading 4–1. O’Sullivan entered the World Grand Prix seeded fifth on the one-year ranking list. He defeated Yan Bingtao 4–2 in the first round, but lost 1–4 to Neil Robertson in the second. In the final event of the Home Nations series, the Welsh Open, O’Sullivan progressed past Tom Ford 4–1 in the first round. His defence was then ended early by Mark Davis, who beat him 3–4 in the second round after O’Sullivan had led 3–0.
O’Sullivan entered the Players Championship seeded 7th on the one-year ranking list. He defeated Liang Wenbo 5–1 in the first round, but was defeated 3−5 by Judd Trump in the quarter-finals. At the China Open, O’Sullivan defeated Gareth Allen 5−0 in the first round, but was then upset 4−5 by Mark Joyce in the second.
On the eve of the World Championships, O’Sullivan attended the 40th anniversary celebration of the Crucible Theatre holding the World Snooker Championship as a past champion. O’Sullivan then faced debutant Gary Wilson in the first round. He won five of the first six frames before Wilson fought back by winning three consecutive frames to trail by only 5−4 at the end of the first session. In a high scoring second session, O’Sullivan went on to defeat Wilson 10−7 and celebrated by repeatedly punching the air. Speaking to the media at length for the first time since the Masters, O’Sullivan attacked the WPBSA during his post-match press conference for using “threatening” language in communications with him and said he would no longer be “bullied” by the governing body in future. Jason Ferguson, chairman of the WPBSA, and Barry Hearn, chairman of World Snooker, denied the allegations. Past champions John Higgins and Stuart Bingham backed O’Sullivan with Higgins expressing “sympathy” for him and Bingham saying “he had a point”. However, 2005 champion Shaun Murphy claimed that O’Sullivan’s comments were “completely wrong”. This added further intrigue ahead of the second round clash of O’Sullivan and Murphy. O’Sullivan later issued a statement saying he would “not be making any further comment” during the Championships and would instead focus on his “quest for a sixth world title”.
During his second round match, O’Sullivan opened up a four frame advantage over Murphy in the first session to lead 6−2. In the second session, O’Sullivan maintained his advantage to lead 10−6 going into the final session. The third session saw no comeback from Murphy and O’Sullivan progressed to the quarter-finals 13−7. The quarter-finals would be the furthest O’Sullivan would progress, as he fell behind Ding Junhui 6–10 after the opening two sessions. Despite scoring the tournament’s highest break with a 146 in the final session, he would eventually lose 10–13. Following his loss, O’Sullivan stated that he had no intention of retiring.
2017/2018 season: English Open title
Hong Kong Masters: O’Sullivan was also one of eight “elite” players invited to play in the inaugural Hong Kong Masters. O’Sullivan reached the final, having narrowly beaten John Higgins by 5–4 in the quarter-finals and Judd Trump by 6–5 in the semi-finals, despite needing a snooker in the deciding frame of his match with Trump. In the final, O’Sullivan faced Neil Robertson and was defeated 3–6, despite scoring the highest break of the tournament with a run of 143 in the fifth frame. As part of the British quintet of himself, Mark Williams, Graeme Dott, Joe Perry and Michael Holt; O’Sullivan captained Great Britain to victory in the CVB Snooker Challenge team event, beating China 26–9 by aggregate score.
China Championship: O’Sullivan entered only one of the first six ranking tournaments of the season, the China Championship. He reached the quarter-finals with victories over Sam Baird and David Gilbert before recording a 5–0 whitewash of Graeme Dott in the last 16. He lost to the eventual champion Luca Brecel 4–5 succumbing to a succession of breaks after leading 4–1.
In the lead up to the English Open, O’Sullivan qualified for the International Championship and the Shanghai Masters by whitewashing Gerard Greene 6–0 and Christopher Keogan 5–0 respectively.
English Open: O’Sullivan competed in the first of the four Home Nations events, the English Open. In the First Round, O’Sullivan defeated Zhang Anda 4–1. He won despite injuring his ankle prior to the match, and was forced to play in trainers in violation of the player’s dress code. World Snooker later gave O’Sullivan permission to wear trainers for the rest of the Open. In the Second Round, O’Sullivan beat Mark Davis 4–1, compiling back-to-back century breaks of 136 and 134 in the last two frames of the match. In the Third Round, he continued his good form, winning 4–1 against Zhang Yong. O’Sullivan compiled three centuries during the Third Round match. The match was interrupted at the end of the final frame by a female spectator running around the table. Despite the distraction, O’Sullivan continued playing and potted the pink ball for a break of 129 before he offered his cue to the spectator so she could take his last shot (where she missed twice) before being led away by security. In the Last Sixteen match, O’Sullivan trailed John Higgins 0–1, 1–2, and 2–3 before triumphing in the decider and winning 4–3. In the Quarterfinals O’Sullivan beat Jack Lisowski 5–2. In the Semifinals O’Sullivan scored a 6–4 victory over Anthony McGill to reach the Final. In the Final, O’Sullivan defeated Kyren Wilson 9–2 for his 29th ranking title. During the Final match he compiled four centuries and had a pot success of 98%, missing only a total of 6 balls during the 11 frames played. Altogether, O’Sullivan compiled 12 centuries during the tournament, more than any other competitor. This was O’Sullivan’s first victory in a ranking event in more than 20 months.