Rocket Rules In Riyadh

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Snooker’s first ever pro tournament in Saudi Arabia was fittingly won by the sport’s all-time greatest player as Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Luca Brecel 5-2 in the final of the inaugural Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker.

The event was a landmark for the sport as the best players on the planet competed in the Kingdom for the first time. It is hoped that they will inspire a wave of interest in snooker throughout the Middle East, and O’Sullivan lived up to his role as flag-bearer by going all the way to the title, winning a final clash between the world number one and World Champion.

The event included the innovation of a golden ball, giving players the chance to make a unique break of 167 and earn a bonus of $500,000. The ‘super-maximum’ was not achieved, but HE Advisor Turki Alalshikh, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), announced that in the next staging of the event, the bonus will be doubled to $1,000,000. He also raised the idea of a Ronnie O’Sullivan academy in Saudi Arabia.

O’Sullivan said: “It has been a fantastic tournament, a brilliant venue, the crowd have been amazing. All the players have enjoyed the culture and hospitality. These are the tournaments I really want to play in, with a great atmosphere. It feels like a really nice festival. Riyadh Season has a lot of the best sport – everyone needs to get to Saudi! You want to try to make the sport as big as you can and Saudi is a powerhouse.”

Victory builds on what could end up a career-best season for O’Sullivan, who retains the Midas touch at the age of 48 and has now won five titles in 2023/24. The £250,000 top prize takes his tally for the season to £1,141,500, beating Judd Trump’s record of £1,093,900 for the most earned in a single campaign. And that’s with three huge tournaments still to come, including the Cazoo World Championship where he will be gunning for an eighth crown.

Brecel had hoped to win his first title since conquering the Crucible last May, but a crucial error in frame four – when he had the momentum – proved decisive. The Belgian, who banks £125,000, can take consolation in the knowledge that his game is improving as he looks towards his title defence in Sheffield.

O’Sullivan took the opening frame with a break of 96, then Brecel dominated the second before going ahead with a run of 81. In frame four, Brecel led 29-0 when he missed the black off its spot, and his opponent punished him with a 94 clearance.

Brecel failed to score a point after the interval as O’Sullivan reeled off three rapid frames with top breaks of 121 and 124 to win the 79th professional title of his career.

O’Sullivan added: “I wanted to do well in this event, just to be a part of it was great. I started really well against John Higgins, that was one of my best performances. I struggled in the semi-finals against Judd Trump but then played better in the final. I felt very relaxed and laid back here because they take life at a leisurely pace. It was great to hear the fans chanting my name at the end and I can’t wait to come back.

“They love the game here, are talking about an academy and getting some good coaches. If there are youngsters playing the game then we could have a Saudi World Champion in 20 years. It’s good for snooker.”

Brecel said: “It has been a fantastic few days, the crowd were great. Everyone was excited to come here and we hope the event will be here for a long time.”

Pictures by Zhai Zheng (@zhaizhengqd)