We saw the conclusion of the quarter finals round yesterday with wins for Judd Trump in the afternoon and Neil Robertson in the evening. So now, Ronnie is the last poster boy standing! Hopefully he will still stand at the end of today.
Again, things took a turn for the unexpected. Mark Selby had looked coming back close to his best in the first round, but he was really poor yesterday. Judd played OK, he kept his discipline but he wasn’t faultless, his opponent did have enough chances. He nevertheless had a very comfortable passage to the semi finals.
Trump cited an improved safety game as a key reason behind his impressive recent form as he outplayed Selby to set up a semi-final with Barry Hawkins or Neil Robertson on Saturday evening.
The Bristol cueman previously reached the last four of snooker’s biggest invitation event in 2012, 2016 and 2018 but missed out on the final. This time he’ll be confident of going one better and reaching his first Triple Crown final since the 2014 UK Championship.
Selby may have eight Triple Crown titles to his name but he has struggled to produce his best in those events since capturing the 2017 World Championship. That was the last time he won two consecutive matches in any of the big three.
The opening frame today took 43 minutes and went Trump’s way, and a break of 54 helped world number five Trump take the second. Selby pulled one back with a 64 but it was Trump who stepped up a gear with 81, 101 and 60 to surge 5-1 ahead.
Leicester’s Selby made a 110 in frame seven to raise hopes of a trademark fightback and he had chances in frame eight, which came down to the colours. In potting the brown, Selby tried to dislodge the blue from a side cushion and was unlucky to snooker himself behind the black. He hit the blue but went in-off, handing Trump the chance to pot a long blue and add the pink for victory.
“It was important for me to dig in, make sure my safety was good and not leave any easy chances for him,” said 29-year-old Trump, who won his ninth ranking title at the Northern Ireland Open in November. “My safety has been good for the past couple of years. It’s creating more chances for me, and that’s probably why I’m starting to do a little bit better.
“There was a lot of pressure out there, and I was able to deal with it. I keep getting to the semi-finals here. I’m giving myself the chances which is what you’ve got to do. The more often I put myself in that position, hopefully sooner or later I’ll win it.
“I practised hard over Christmas to give myself every chance of doing well in this event. It’s paying off so far, I’ve beaten two tough players in Kyren Wilson and Mark, and I’ve beaten both quite comfortably.”
Selby said: “I had more than enough chances, but every time I got in everything fell awkward. Judd played better than me and took his chances. His safety game has improved over the years, so I know he’s got a good all-round game now.
“Every time I missed I felt like I was leaving them over the hole for him, and every time Judd missed he didn’t really leave me anything. I felt good out there, but it was frustrating because nothing seemed to happen for me. In the end I started laughing in my seat because it’s just the way the day went for me.”
The second match also unfolded in unexpected manner. Barry Hawkins started well, he won the first two frames. At that stage he looked solid. Then Neil Robertson won the next and Barry, all of a sudden started making mistakes, a lot of them. Neil took advantage of course and went on to win quite easily, without being at his best himself.
Champion in 2012, Robertson will be aiming to reach the final at Alexandra Palace for the fourth time when he faces Trump on Saturday evening. And the Australian drew a comparison with England’s two leading football teams as he looked ahead.
“I watched Manchester City and Liverpool going at each other and it was inspiring to see two teams completely confident that their game plan would work,” said Robertson. “I guess I’m a bit like (Liverpool manager) Jurgen Klopp – good to watch but with a few crazy shots! I will need to have total belief against Judd.
“He’s got it in his locker to take a match away from you when you’re not doing a lot wrong, and I have too. I think the crowd and everyone watching are going to enjoy it.”
Former World Champion Robertson wasn’t even among the field for the Masters last year having dropped out of the top 16, but he has now climbed back to tenth and is showing glimpses of his best.
Hawkins started strongly tonight with breaks of 64 and 72 to take the first two frames, before Robertson recovered to 2-2 with 73 and 72. A scrappy fifth went Robertson’s way and he added the next two with a top run of 43 to lead 5-2.
Robertson appeared to be cruising past the finish line in frame eight until he missed a red to a top corner on 42, allowing Hawkins to clear with 66 for 5-3. But that only delayed the result for a few more minutes as Robertson sealed victory in the ninth with a break of 72.
“Barry looked super strong in the first two frames,” Robertson added. “He punished a slight mistake and cleared up, and in the next frame he cleared up too. I didn’t do a lot wrong. It just was about taking advantage of any mistakes he did make and I managed to do that. I started flying then from 2-0 down to lead 5-2.
“I lost my concentration a little bit towards the end because a few people in the crowd were shouting out. That was probably my fault for not being able to re-focus. I would never take that away from what this tournament brings because it’s a fantastic atmosphere.”
Hawkins said: “I got off to a good start but all credit to Neil, he dug in and played two good frames to go 2-2. I felt like I was in my chair for long periods of time. I lost my timing towards the end, and it was tough out there.
“I wasn’t going to give in, I had to keep trying and wait for something to click. Unfortunately it didn’t really click. Neil looks like his best is ready to come out. His technique and long potting is so good, he’s very strong.”
The crowd was very raucous yesterday evening, and particularly Barry’s supporters. It’s a strange thing really because Barry himself is a rather quiet chap, but I have seen the same at the Crucible: a group of very noisy Barry supporters, shouting and disturbing the play in progress, so much so that a couple of them were removed from the arena. I don’t think they help Barry in any way with this attitude.
Now, that’s what we get today:
Ronnie v Ding
If both played like they did in previous rounds, I can only see one winner: Ronnie. However, Ronnie looked tired and tense after both previous matches. He doesn’t seem to best 100% in a good place mentally for some reason. Until now this didn’t affect his game too much. As a fan, I hope he will feel better today and able to keep his concentration and discipline. Ding looks very happy in himself right now, but his game wasn’t at its best, yet, in the previous rounds. Those two like and respect each other. Whatever happens it should be played in good spirit.
Judd Trump v Neil Robertson
They are stablemates, they surely know each other’s game inside out. This one will be on the form on the day. It’s hard to predict. Both have played well, but not at their best. If everything stays as it was in the previous rounds, I’d favour Judd slightly. However there is a side to Neil’s game that many fans overlook because he’s a very good long potter and goes for a lot of long distance shots. But Neil, if under pressure, can go very defensive, and he’s a master at mind games, taking long comfort breaks at strategic moments, even during frames at times. He has the means to frustrate Judd if things become difficult for him. Would that work on the new focused Judd? Not sure. But not sure it won’t either.