Amid all the excitement within the BBC team in Sheffield yesterday at what they called the "biggest story in Crucible history", the most perceptive words were spoken by Ken Doherty.

"The most important thing for Ronnie and for snooker is that he is well — he didn't look well," said the 1997 world champion.

And so, yes, while it was all wonderful for James Cahill who took his chance with surprising calm, any seasoned watcher of Ronnie "The Rocket" O'Sullivan would have seen the warning signals screaming out from just about his first shot.

O'Sullivan's shock 10-8 defeat by amateur Cahill in first round of the world championship is biggest upset in snooker history. The five-time world champion crashed out to the unknown Englishman who was playing his first match at the Crucible.


O'Sullivan might be the greatest attacking player in snooker history, but no one can thrive by attempting a pot at every visit to the table. There has to be some balance and an allowance for the basic difficulty of the sport, as well as an opponent good enough to not keep passing up gift-wrapped opportunities. An abnormally rapid 15-second average shot time told its own story.

O'Sullivan's basic methodology was that if there was a pot on he would go for it. And fast.

It made for an often thrilling spectacle, as he combined a largely non-existent safety game with brilliant doubles, plants and long pots, but also an inevitable and ultimately fatal high number of misses.

In terms of his approach to snooker, there have long been two Ronnies. There is the Ronnie who looks like he would rather be anywhere else and then the Ronnie who mixes his genius at break building with a patience and astute shot selection that makes him virtually unbeatable.

That we have seen so much less of the first Ronnie recently is why the second half of his career has been so fruitful. O'Sullivan has defied his 43 years to win five tournaments this season and again become world No1. It made the shock both at his performance and demeanour especially acute.

"I was shattered, no energy. Struggling to stay awake. I feel horrendous. I didn't expect to do well here. He has played brilliantly. Fair play to him. But I also left him easy chances," O'Sullivan, 43, said afterwards.

"He played like he didn't want to be there," said Steve Davis, the six-time world champion.

"He was bailing out on some shots, just by attacking all the time ... as if you are hoping to be knocked out, in a strange way."

O'Sullivan has been admirably open about his mental health challenges and has sometimes faced harsh judgments when he has felt unable to fulfil a match or media commitment with total focus.


O'Sullivan has won on five out of the six occasions he has reached the final, yet seems to struggle when the summit is still so far from view.

It is why Davis believes Stephen Hendry's record of seven world titles is safe but that he can envisage O'Sullivan still winning major tournaments seven years from now.

It has been a good season and he still appears to have great technique. The real question, and one O'Sullivan has always eventually answered in the affirmative, is whether the desire to win is still sufficient for the unique demands of the Crucible and what commentator Clive Everton has called "the marathon of the mind".

- Telegraph Group Ltd