It was quarter-finals day yesterday in Cardiff and this is what happened
World number eight Hawkins has had a poor season by his standards – today’s match was his first ranking quarter-final of the campaign. But the 38-year-old has shown signs of his best this week and is now just two wins away from landing a fourth ranking title.
His hopes of qualifying for the lucrative Players Championship are still alive and he could book a place in Llandudno by taking the £70,000 top prize this week.
China’s promising 18-year-old Yan won the opening frame with a break of 54 then Londoner Hawkins hit back with 74 and 137 to lead 2-1. Yan led 44-16 in the fourth but his opponent crucially made a 48 clearance to make it 3-1 at the interval. A tremendous 141 total clearance extended his advantage and he sealed the result in frame six with runs of 60 and 41.
“I was pleased with the result and even more with the performance,” said Hawkins after reaching his fourth Welsh Open semi-final. “I made a good clearance to win the fourth frame and that was the big moment. I didn’t give Yan many chances.
“I am getting matches under my belt and playing more consistently now. Confidence is all it is. I have to stay focused now and keep playing like that.
“I have watched Noppon a few times, he has put in some great performances and beaten some good players. He is dangerous.”
Saengkham reached the last four of a ranking event for the first time by beating Ian Burns 5-3. The first two frames were shared, then 25-year old Saengkham pulled away to lead 4-1 with runs of 87, 55 and 67.
Preston’s Burns battled back, making a 131 to take frame six and winning a scrappy seventh to close to 4-3. In the eighth, Saengkham took eight reds with blacks then ran out of position in potting the ninth red, boldly trying to stay on track for a 147. But he soon got back in and added 32 for victory.
Now the highest ranked Thai player at 58th in the world, Saengkham started playing snooker in his native Bangkok at the age of 14 and had a superb amateur career, winning the World and Asian under-21 titles. The Sheffield-based player is now showing his potential on the pro scene.
“I’m very happy to reach my first semi-final,” he said. “There will be more pressure on me tomorrow but if I can keep my concentration I can do well. It will be tough but I will try my best.
“I have to say thank you to James Wattana because I practise with him, he teaches me a lot of things like how to keep control under pressure. He’s a very good guy. I will have to talk to him before the match tomorrow because he has so much experience and he has won big tournaments.”
I’m very happy to see Barry Hawkins playing well again. I like him, as a player and a person. He’s quiet and humble, but he’s very clever around the table, he’s a fighter and I’d love to see him lift the trophy tomorrow and qualify for the Players Championship.
Barry’s opponent today is Noppon Saengkham and he’s very dangerous. However experience of the big stages is with Barry and I expect “the Hawk” to win with a bit to spare.
O’Sullivan captured last week’s World Grand Prix, his fourth ranking title of the season, and won his first three matches here in Cardiff without losing a frame. But he was no match for old rival Higgins tonight as the Scot went through to the semi-finals to face Gary Wilson.
World number five Higgins is aiming to become the first player to win the Welsh Open for the fifth time, and hopes to bring his career tally of ranking titles to 30. His last victory came at the Indian Open in September.
O’Sullivan won the opener tonight with a break of 64 and at that stage had won 19 frames in a row. But Higgins hit back with runs of 113 and 57 to lead 2-1. The pivotal fourth frame looked to be heading O’Sullivan’s way when he led by 24 points with the last five colours left. But in potting the green with the rest, he was unlucky to see the cue ball flick off the brown and drop into a centre pocket. Higgins later potted a long brown and cleared for 3-1.
O’Sullivan had first chance in frame five but could only make 30 before running out of position, and Higgins responded to take it, helped by a break of 60. And a missed green from O’Sullivan early in frame six proved his last shot as Higgins wrapped it up in style with a 101.
“To beat Ronnie is a great win,” said Higgins. “He has beaten me really easily a few times this season, then the last two times we have played I have got the better of him quite easily. Ronnie didn’t play great tonight and I was a bit surprised by that.
“The fourth frame was massive. He’ll probably wonder to himself what he was even doing coming close to the middle pocket, that’s what will be pickling his head tonight, he’ll be thinking he should have just potted the green and played safe on the brown.
“It would be brilliant to win a fifth Welsh Open but I’m not even thinking about that yet. I’ve got a very tough game against Gary, the last time we played in Northern Ireland he beat me. He’s getting more used to the business end of tournaments and he has got what it takes to get to big finals.
“It’s a big aim to get to 30 ranking titles, once I got past Steve Davis to 29 that was my aim. I feel great, in the past I have lost in tournaments and been down on myself. Now I am enjoying it more, I’m not putting too much expectation on myself, I’m just giving it everything in each event and seeing where it takes me. In my eyes Ronnie will always be the best. I am more of a working man’s player, I don’t have the same flair but I give it everything.”
O’Sullivan said: “John is just different class, he’s just a brilliant player. I got what I deserved tonight. I knew if I didn’t find an improvement on what I had done so far in the tournament he would get into my weaknesses, and that’s what he did.
“I’m quite relieved it is over because I can do a nice bit of commentary now and watch John. The only good thing about tonight was that I had the best seat in the house. I would recommend anyone who is a snooker fan to come and watch John, because it doesn’t get any better than the way he plays. Hopefully he’ll win the trophy because it’s great to see great players do great things.
“If it had been 2-2 at the interval it would have been daylight robbery. It was a master class from John, he didn’t play his best but he didn’t need to. I love playing in Cardiff so I’m disappointed to be out. But I wasn’t performing well enough. I won last week and I can’t keep going to the well.”
Wallsend’s Wilson scored a 5-2 win over China’s Yu Delu to reach the second ranking semi-final of his career; the first coming at the 2015 China Open when he beat Ding Junhui in the semis before losing to Mark Selby in the final.
World number 51 Wilson made a 105 in the opening frame tonight then Yu hit back to lead 2-1. Wilson dominated the next three frames, firing breaks of 140 and 124 as he went 4-2 up. Frame seven came down to the colours and both players had chances, but Wilson knocked in excellent pots on brown, blue and pink to guarantee a pay-day of at least £20,000.
“I played a lot better tonight,” said 32-year-old Wilson, a former taxi driver. “I was confident and I took control from 2-1 down. I held myself together well in the end. I’m over the moon to be in the semis and I’ll see how far I can get.
“I was looking over at John Higgins and it looked like he played well. He and Ronnie are both class so I knew it would be a tough next match for me. I have had a good draw in this tournament so far, but I know I’ve got to play a lot better tomorrow against John. I beat him a good match in Belfast. If I can get chances I know I can score, but my safety will have to be good as well.
“I had no faith in my technique before tonight and I am still lacking in confidence in certain shots. I was in the practice room earlier today changing a few technical things, to find something I could rely on and be comfortable with.”
1pm: Barry Hawkins v Noppon Saengkham
7pm: John Higgins v Gary Wilson
Ronnie didn’t go for a run in the snow, instead, he went to the gym … maybe that was the mistake? Just kidding.
John Higgins deserved the win, he was the better player yesterday, and as Ronnie said, he exposed Ronnie’s weaknesses. Ronnie had been scoring heavily when in, earlier this week, but he had rarely been first in, meaning that he had to rely on his opponents’ mistakes to get opportunities. That, and his quotes about Higgins yesterday, meant that I didn’t feel confident before the match and I was right.
For me, basically, what happened yesterday is the result of a combination of factors.
Ronnie gives John Higgins too much respect, you could even say that he is in awe of him. There is no doubt that Higgins is a great of the game, but their respective tally shows that Ronnie is a better player than him, even if Ronnie has often struggled against him. John is a bit of a bogey player for Ronnie like Ronnie is a bit of a bogey player for Mark Williams (or Mark Johnston Allen for Stephen Hendry!)
Ronnie knows that he has to play well against John, and he wasn’t playing well, in particular, he was really struggling with his positional game which is quite unusual. Maybe the table had been recovered and played very differently from the day before – I don’t know – but usually, Ronnie adapts pretty quickly to the conditions, not yesterday though. Towards the end of the match, and certainly, in the last frame, it seemed to me that Ronnie didn’t believe he could possibly come back and win, and just wanted it to be over.
Ronnie didn’t have much run either, nothing seemed to work for him, which often happens when a player is struggling. Knocking the brown in, after potting the green in frame two was a big blow, and having to reflect on that during the MSI surely wasn’t much fun. Ronnie though came back from the interval, fighting, knocked in a long red, but made only 30, breaking down after yet another bad positional shot. I think that was the definite turning point, especially as Higgins got away with a couple of bad mistakes in that frame as well.
Ronnie, I’m sure, was feeling relieved after the match, and probably looking forward to the punditry/commentary job over the weekend. But I doubt that, in a couple of days, with hindsight, he will feel happy and proud of his attitude last night.
MissingClip 2018 Welsh Open: preview of the Ronnie O’Sullivan – John Higgins match (BBC)
MissingClip 2018 Welsh Open: MSI of the Ronnie O’Sullivan – John Higgins match (BBC)
MissingClip 2018 Welsh Open: review of the Ronnie O’Sullivan – John Higgins match (BBC)
Anyway, the show goes on and now, for Ronnie, it’s going from this
…. to this