The first day of the QF round brought its fair share of excitement at Alexandra Palace.
Ronnie booked his place in the semi finals round at the Masters for a remarkable 14th time. He beat Ryan Day by 6-3 in the afternoon session. It was an excellent match overall. Ronnie was very sharp, but still looked tired and had a few lapses of concentration, mainly before the MSI. Ryan played really well himself.
Quite remarkably, out of 13 past appearances in the SF at the Masters, Ronnie won 12. Can he make it 13? We will see. What is certain is that he has a match on his hands as his opponent will be Ding Junhui who, in the evening, got the better of Luca Brecel, in a decider!
China’s Ding made an excellent match-winning break in the deciding frame to settle an enthralling contest which never had more than one frame between the two competitors.
Eighth seed Ding is through to the semi-finals of this event for the first time since he won it in 2011. He’ll face O’Sullivan on Saturday afternoon in a repeat of the 2007 final, which the Englishman won 10-3. Ding is seeking his first title since the 2017 Yushan World Open.
The first six frames tonight were shared, Ding making breaks of 125 and 64 while Brecel knocked in 63, 74 and 87. World number 14 Brecel, who was aiming to reach the semi-finals of a Triple Crown event for the first time, took frame seven in two scoring visits before Ding responded with a 105 for 4-4.
In the ninth, Ding trailed 35-0 when he was faced with a tough safety, and tried to come off the side cushion to rest against a red on the top cushion. He could have hit the ball directly, so when he failed to make contact three times in a row, referee Greg Coniglio had to award the frame to Brecel.
Unfazed by that error, Ding won the tenth with runs of 32 and 57 for 5-5. The key moment of the decider came when Brecel, leading 23-6, missed a straight-forward red to a centre pocket. Ding got the next chance and made no mistake, his cool 65 clinching the tie.
Ding said: “I believe in myself to do well in deciders. I’ve won most of them in the last couple of seasons. In a decider, it’s about who wants to win it, and I believed that I could win the game. Luca had a brilliant chance to win it, but he missed the red in the middle pocket which was unbelievable.
“I’ve finally got a chance to play Ronnie. I had a chance to play him in the UK Championship and in the Shanghai Masters but each time I lost the game before I met him. This time in the Masters, a big tournament, I’m looking forward to playing him.”
Brecel added: “It’s disappointing to lose today, I had my chances. Normally I’m very good in deciders, today I lost one. It happens. I have to get over it but it’s tough at the moment.”
It was a truly crazy match this, and from a neutral point of view a very entertaining one. Luca Brecel has all the ability in the world, and, incredibly, he played the whole match with a badly damaged tip. He had damaged it whilst having some practice minutes before the start of the match, with no time left to fix it.
Paul Collier did some repair work on it at MSI, but it still wasn’t right by any means.
Despite this Luca played some really incredible shots throughout the match, but then, he also made equally incredible mistakes. It was a real mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous at times.
Ding forfeited the ninth frame over the “three misses” rule.
Here is how this happened:
Asked what happened there by the pundits in the ES studio, Ding just said that he was so sure that he would reach one of the three reds at third attempt that he took the shot again; his rationale was also that taking the one he actually saw full ball would definitely have given Luca a good opening, from which he expected him to win the frame.
All week the cushions have been a talking point in the studio as, apparently, they are quite not reacting to shots played with side they way they usually do on match tables at WS events. This may be caused by conditions in the venue. Alexandra Palace is very peculiar, the arena is set in a huge room, with a very high ceiling, Getting the air conditioning right isn’t easy especially with a nearly 2000 capacity. One fitter told me once that humidity level could go up by as much as 15% when Ronnie was playing and every seat was taken. It has been full capacity nearly all week this time.
And I was very pleased to see Ding so happy and relaxed, laughing and joking with the pundits.