|Venue: Alexandra Palace, London Dates: 12-19 January|
|Coverage: Watch live across BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, Connected TV, the BBC Sport website and mobile app.|
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s decision to pull out of the Masters is a “waste” and a call the seven-time champion will come to view as a career mistake, says World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn.
O’Sullivan, 44, felt his spot at one of snooker’s showpiece tournaments should go to someone who will “give 110%”.
Hearn said he had “no idea” why the 2019 runner-up would want to miss out.
“The Masters is a special place. It’ll miss Ronnie and Ronnie, in a reflective mood, will miss the Masters,” he said.
“It is probably one of those decisions I think we have all made in our lives that you look around now or later and say ‘I shouldn’t have done that, that was a waste’,” Hearn told BBC Sport.
“It’s extra disappointing because he has a fabulous record at the Masters. He doesn’t have to travel very far, it’s his home tournament and he has a legion of fans who will be disappointed.
“I feel more sorry for Ronnie missing than anyone else because I feel it is a huge career mistake for him.”
O’Sullivan, a 36-time ranking event winner and five-time world champion, won his first Masters crown in 1995 at the age of 21.
Last year he reached his 13th final but was brushed aside 10-4 by Judd Trump in a one-sided contest at London’s Alexandra Palace.
Trump’s stylish victory was the start of a fabulous year which also saw him win the World Championship for the first time.
Is ‘flag-waver’ Trump ready to replace Ronnie?
Hearn said the time could be right for Trump to take on the mantle of snooker royalty from O’Sullivan and his fellow greats.
“Who knows what the future holds for young Mr O’Sullivan,” Hearn added. “But whatever it does, he has been a wonderful addition to the world of snooker for many, many years and we wish him well in everything he does.
“Ronnie has been around for so many more years so has built a brand value. This is Ronnie O’Sullivan – a genius. He is his own man and does what he wants to do. And maybe he has reached the time in his life where he has fallen out of love with snooker.
“Everyone benefits from the big personalities at the top. Every snooker player has benefited from Ronnie’s personality and skill. But no one lasts forever.
“Ronnie’s a sad loss for the Masters, there’s no two ways about it. But he is not an irreplaceable loss because Judd is world number one and there are lots of other great players at this event.
“I do need a flag-waver – and Ronnie has done that job brilliantly well. We have always had one like Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis. But a really successful sport has depth of talent as well and people, while they want excellence, do not want to see one-way traffic.
“Judd is clear world number one, the first player to earn more than £1m in a season. He has a very good image for snooker. He is a young, vibrant attacking player. He has a great lifestyle and is someone that a kid could aspire to be. He ticks an awful lot of boxes as far as the personality is concerned.”
Hearn said snooker was at a “crossover” period.
“There are a few older boys – the ‘Class of 92’ with Mark Williams and John Higgins – who are still very capable players but are reaching their sell-by date.
“Time waits for no one. And you look at Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski and you think these will be good replacements. They are lively, attractive players with good personality that we can develop.
“We are in a good place with talent coming through. Ding Junhui winning the UK Championship has reignited China – if it needed reigniting.
“Our job is to make sure we have an army of people that want to be the next Ronnie O’Sullivan – both on the table and from a personality perspective as well.”
The 2020 Masters, which consists of the world’s top 16 players, takes place at Alexandra Palace from 12-19 January, and is live across BBC TV and online.
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