As Ronnie O'Sullivan reaches the tail-end of his career, snooker finds itself in a difficult position.
'The Rocket' is by far the biggest draw in the sport at the moment, with a large portion of its following tuning in just to see him play. When he eventually does step away from the top level, the authorities will be worried that viewing figures will drop dramatically.
The best solution to this issue would be for a new young superstar to emerge. A number of potential stars have come through over the last few years, although none have managed to capture the imagination in the same way as O'Sullivan.
Ben Mertens is the last name to emerge on the scene. The 18-year old Belgian has been making some major waves in recent times and is widely regarded as perhaps the best up and coming talent snooker has seen in quite a while.
This week, he was given the opportunity to show what he can do on a big stage. Mertens face Ronnie O'Sullivan in the last-16 of the Welsh Open last night.
𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐑𝐎𝐂𝐊𝐄𝐓 is on 🔥🚀
Ronnie O'Sullivan takes a convincing 4-0 win over Ben Mertens! He heads to the quarter-finals to face either John Higgins or Tian Pengfei 👏@ronnieo147 | #HomeNations | #WelshOpen pic.twitter.com/cCEESkXZIT
— Eurosport (@eurosport) February 16, 2023
It ended in a convincing 4-0 win for the Englishman, although he was impressed with his young opponent.
Ronnie O'Sullivan sends warning to Ben Mertens
Ronnie O'Sullivan has lamented the lack of top young players in snooker over the last few years, but he has liked much of what he has seen from Ben Mertens.
Speaking to Eurosport after their match, he said that their was no ceiling to what the the teenager could become. However, he also warned him that he would have to quickly improve on the biggest stage if he was to avoid becoming yet another 'journeyman' in professional snooker.
He’s young, but he’s got so much talent.
You see some players on the tour and there’s a ceiling to everybody, really, but this kid...I don’t think there’s much of a ceiling, you know. He is, I think, by far the best in his age category so his future is unbelievable.
But I don’t think he should be thinking future; he should be thinking present. The type of game he’s got, the quality he’s got. Just a bit of experience, maybe. But he’ll mould better as a player, and all really, really good players are quick learners.
So, if he’s going to be a top player, I reckon you’ll see him do it in the next year or two. If you don’t, then he might be like the other players that are just journeymen, really.
I hope not though because I think he’s got so much talent...
I think it applies in all sports - if you’re going to be good, you get it young. Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Mike Tyson…you know, all the great sportsmen. They do it early. Age is not important.
Sometimes when you’re younger, it’s even better, you’re more fearless...
You’ve got to learn to deal with it, haven’t you? I didn’t mind it, to be honest with you. I think pressure is a privilege, in a way. I like pressure.
It is rare to see Ronnie O'Sullivan to hand out such a level of praise to a young player, so it will be interesting to see what Ben Mertens can develop into over the next few years.
Snooker could certainly do with an heir to The Rocket's throne.