The takeaway fact from yesterday's quarter-final match at the Crucible was that Ronnie O'Sullivan bowed out to Stuart Bingham 13-9. A top quality tussle between two evenly matched players was decided by relatively small margins in the end. Yet, the fallout from the result may have greater repercussions on the future of 'The Rocket', maybe even on the game itself. Will he retain the desire and mental fortitude to return to the scene of many of his greatest triumphs next year?

As ever it seems in recent times, O'Sullivan was the firm favourite for the World Snooker Championship title coming into the event.

He had done enough in the first two rounds to suggest that his form was adequate for the task, despite some slightly erratic incidents along the way. Perhaps unknowingly he has been pushing the boundaries of fair play and the rulebook altogether. Playing without shoes, shaking his cue in annoyance, making alleged rude gestures and placing his chalk on the table. He even tried to clean the cue ball himself at one stage, prompting comparisons to the late (great) Alex Higgins.

Has he anything left to prove in the game? A wonderful career of five titles at each of the Triple Crown events - World, Masters and UK Championships - suggests otherwise. He may yearn for that sixth world title to equal Ray Reardon and Steve Davis in the history books.

Yet, Stephen Hendry's record of seven titles (in the modern era) seems to be moving further away from his grasp every year.

In the aftermath of his first defeat at the quarter-final stage in 4 years, Ronnie admitted that he "deserved to lose". Bingham grew in confidence and stature as the game wore on, taking five of the last six frames in their final session.

Ronnie missed shots he would expect to make usually. O'Sullivan still played well in patches, scoring three century breaks to his opponent's one. That single century, however, was a wonderful 145 total clearance that equalled the top break of the tournament so far. It was a statement of intent as much as anything else.

O'Sullivan referred to a potential "changing of the guard" when quizzed for his thoughts after the loss.

Whether he meant such as Bingham is unclear, as his conqueror is only one year younger than the Essex man. Maybe he was pointing to the likes of Judd Trump who faces Bingham next or Anthony McGill who defeated Mark Selby in the second round. Selby, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy look set to contest the later stages in major events for some time yet as well.

He will be 40 in December, which could prompt yet more consideration of his future in the game (or not). Some say that life begins when that milestone is reached, maybe Ronnie will concur and try something else. Former champion Hendry has gravitated towards the commentary seat, in his semi-retirement from the game. One doubts that O'Sullivan would follow suit, the line-up already seems slightly cluttered as is unless they make way for him.

His perception of the game outside of directly playing in it would be intriguing though.

Hendry for one admits that the game will be the worse for it whenever O'Sullivan does call 'time'. Let's hope that he continues (at least) a little longer to be the biggest crowd-puller in snooker.