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22 May 2024

Snooker can fire without Rocket says Hearn


World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn has insisted the success of the recent Masters tournament shows the sport can thrive without Ronnie O'Sullivan although he'd welcome the return of the world champion.

Sunday saw world number one Mark Selby take his third Masters title after a 10-6 victory in the final at London's Alexandra Palace against defending champion Neil Robertson of Australia.

O'Sullivan was a spectator in the crowd on semi-final day, sparking thoughts the fans' favourite could be about to end his self-imposed exile from snooker at the World Championships in Sheffield, northern England, in April.

That event will see Selby, who has already won the UK Championship, trying to win all three of snooker's major titles in the one season.

"If I know Ronnie I think the reason he came Saturday night is because he's sitting at home watching it on telly saying 'I used to be good at that game'," Hearn, who made his name as manager of six-times world champion Steve Davis.

"He just turned up; he should've brought his cue.

"He still has a choice of entering the World Championships. The closing date is the end of February; he's got to make a decision before then," added Hearn, also a successful boxing and darts promoter, as well as the chairman of third-tier London football club Leyton Orient.

There had been concerns that when O'Sullivan staged his latest departure from snooker, the sport would be badly hurt by the absence of its biggest current box-office draw.

But Hearn said snooker was about more than one man.

"If he decides to he's welcome with open arms, because he adds so much. And if he doesn't, I just want to remind him that he wasn't in the Masters, we sold more tickets and we got bigger TV ratings.

"The sport does not rely on one person, even if that person can add another dimension to it, which we would welcome.

"The choice is entirely his. I'm certainly not going to put any pressure on."

Hearn, who in December 2009 was appointed chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), has made a number of changes which he hopes will revive interest in the sport.

The most contentious is that next season the top 16 players in the world rankings will play from the first round in the majority of tournaments, with the World Championship, Australian Open and Shanghai Masters the exceptions.

"What I can compare it to is Usain Bolt, who is the number one sprinter in the world but does not start halfway down the track," Hearn said.

"It's a challenge to the top 16 to say: if you really are top 16, you shouldn't have any problems with starting the same as anybody else.

"If you're worried about it, I can understand why you want protectionism, but we're not going to allow protectionism.

"Eight of the 11 events next year will be a 128 draw. The three events that are not will be the only events where the prize money doesn't change, until they come into the family."

He added: "We will announce new prize money next week for the Masters, because we're going to reward the top 16, providing they're the real top 16.

"And they may well be, I just want to see it."