Again it was a day with two halves, the afternoon session seeing the conclusion of the QF round, whilst the evening featured the first SF.
Mark Selby and Ding Junhui emerged the winners of their respective QF, and will play the second SF tonight. Ronnie awaits the winner in the Final tomorrow.
World number one Selby continued his bid to win a second ranking title of the season, and first since the International Championship in November. He now meets Ding Junhui in the semis on Saturday evening at the Guild Hall in Preston. O’Sullivan made four centuries last night in a 5-0 win over Xiao Guodong and faces Stephen Maguire in the other semi tonight.
Selby was far from his best today, making several unforced errors, but breaks of 69, 59 and 52 helped him to reach the last four and remain in contention for the £100,000 top prize.
“I was practising last night then at the interval I saw Ronnie had a 99% pot success rate,” Selby told ITV. “He came in to practise on the other table and I thought he must be looking for that extra 1%! Like Roger Federer he seems to be getting better with age, which is worrying for the rest of us. If I end up meeting him in the final I would prefer that because I’d know if I don’t play well I’d have no chance.
“I got frustrated today because I’m playing well on the practice table but it’s not happening out there in matches. Any pot over six foot, I am not timing and cueing across it. I’m glad I’m still in the tournament but I take pride in my performance so I’m not happy with that. In some frames I am getting three or four chances and only getting 20 points in front. I was trying to force myself to play well today rather than just focusing on trying to win.”
Asked about O’Sullivan’s comment earlier in the week that only Selby, Ding and John Higgins have the “bottle” needed to thrive at the top level, Selby added: “That’s harsh on the likes of Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy because they have won the Triple Crown.”
China’s Ding got the better of a tough battle against Anthony McGill, winning 5-3. After sharing the first four frames, Ding made a 96 to lead 3-2, then McGill levelled again at 3-3. World number four Ding regained the lead with a superb 134. Scotland’s McGill had a chance to make it 4-4 but he missed the penultimate red when trailing 47-35 in frame eight, and Ding took advantage to reach his first semi-final since he won the Yushan World Open in September.
“Everything has been good this week, I have been winning matches with good performances,” said Ding. “It will be very tough against Selby, I will just try to play well. If I could win the first tournament of the Chinese New Year that would be great.”
The Selby vs White match was pretty poor standard, but, as so often Mark found a way to win it. I find it interesting that, asked about Ronnie’s comments, Mark Selby’s reaction was not one of denying the point, it was to stress that a couple of others should be included in the list of “players with bottle”.
Ronnie’s win over Stephen Maguire was anything but straightforward.
Here is the report on Worldsnooker:
O’Sullivan will now meet Mark Selby or Ding Junhui on Sunday at the Guild Hall, with the winner to take the trophy and a top prize of £100,000. World number two O’Sullivan has already won the English Open, Shanghai Masters and UK Championship this season and is aiming to win four ranking titles within the same campaign for the first time in his career. The only time he had previously won three in a season was back in 2004/05.
The Rocket is now into his sixth final of the season as he was runner-up at the invitational Hong Kong Masters and Champion of Champions.
It was Scotland’s Maguire who made a fast start tonight with a break of 103 in the opening frame, and he went on to lead 3-1 at the interval. O’Sullivan pulled one back with a break of 50 then Maguire recovered a 45 point deficit to win the sixth frame on the colours.
Chigwell’s 42-year-old O’Sullivan found another gear when he needed it – as he does so often – and reeled off the next four frames within 42 minutes. Breaks of 72, 83 and 128 (his seventh century of the tournament) put him 5-4 ahead, then runs of 39 and 25 were enough to give him the tenth frame for victory.
“I hustled my way through the match, there wasn’t really any good ball striking,” said O’Sullivan, chasing his 32nd ranking title. “I had to draw on my experience and will to win. After the way I played last night (beating Xiao Guodong 5-0) everyone says ‘Ronnie’s flying’ but it was just one match. I’m not flying – I have played three patchy games and one very good one. There’s a lot of work to be done on my game to try to get a higher level of consistency.”
Asked whether he feels this is the best form of his career, O’Sullivan added: “No, I think my best was 2011 to 2014 or 2015 when I was dominating and crushing everyone and winning tournaments pretty easily. These days I have to struggle more, I have had to reinvent myself because I can’t attack as much as I’d like to. I have to find ways of breaking my opponents down, a bit like Roger Federer has done in tennis. You can’t keep playing the same game because people will work you out.”
The last point Ronnie makes about reinventing one-self is interesting as I feel this is exactly why himself, and Mark Williams, have such longevity, whilst someone like Stephen Hendry didn’t. Hendry never accepted to make changes to his game, and, IMO, it wasn’t because he was past it that he didn’t win a major after the age of 30, he was still in his prime, but because the younger players had learned from him and had found the answer to his game by adopting it, only with an added safety side that Hendry never really wanted to apply himself to.
Watching the match was quite stressful for a Ronnie fan, but very interesting psychologically. Maguire was playing very well, and was taking extremely aggressive shots, getting most of them. His long potting was excellent too: he took an impressive number of plants, from distance, splitting the pack everywhere in the process. But, at the same time, he adopted a very slow pace. This combination meant that he put Ronnie under a lot of pressure, and, kept him cold, out of rhythm. If I remember correctly, at the MSI, Ronnie only had 31% table time and 83% pot success as he hadn’t been able to construct any telling break. Ronnie was 3-1 down, and it could easily have been 4-0 down, and visibly struggling. Importantly Ronnie managed to win the first after the MSI with a 50 break, but the real turn-point came in the 7th frame. Maguire was 4-2 up at that point, he was first in again, and in a break. At 26, he ran out of position slightly, decided to go for yet another plant and, this time, missed it, leaving Ronnie in with a chance. It’s all it took. Ronnie made 72, and, from then on, he was the one dictating the pace. Both players body language changed. At 4-3, Maguire was still in front, but you could see that the doubts were planted.
There were also additional quotes by Ronnie in the press (excerpts)
“I would rather play Ding because Selby is going to kill me,” O’Sullivan said.
“They better put some late trains on for the public if I play him.
[Against Maguire] was a Selby-like performance, I stuck in there, you cannot play well all the time.”
“Before I did not believe I could turn it around but now I do, miracles can happen.”