The semi finals were eagerly anticipated, with potentially two cracking matches.
The afternoon semi final did live to expectations. Ronnie beat Ding by 6-3 in a match that had everything: outstanding snooker from both players, a comeback, a dramatic maximum attempt and two centuries … by Ding. It was played in great spirit, and complete sportsmanship between two men who are close friends off the table.
The evening match opposed Judd Trump and Neil Robertson. Most expected a close, high quality match. It was close-ish, yes, but for the best part of it wasn’t quality. At a point, Steve Davis in the commentary box said that they were playing like club players.
In fact, Judd looked very good for the first two frames, then lost his way completely for most of the rest of it. Neil was never at the races, despite a century. It ended up being 6-4 for Judd, which was probably the right result.
The two most exciting talents in the sport will go head to head at Alexandra Palace on Sunday, with first to ten frames to win the Paul Hunter Trophy and a top prize of £200,000.
Given Trump’s success over the past decade it is surprising that this is his first run to the final of snooker’s biggest invitation event. His three previous appearances in the semi-finals had ended in painful defeat, particularly last year when he squandered a 5-2 lead against Kyren Wilson, losing 6-5.
The 29-year-old from Bristol has now laid that ghost to rest and will hope to go one better as he seeks the second Triple Crown title of his career and first since the 2011 UK Championship. Two months ago he beat O’Sullivan 9-7 in the final of the Northern Ireland Open to win his ninth ranking title, a result which will boost his confidence ahead of tomorrow’s meeting. Trump practised hard over the Christmas period to maintain that form and has played some fine snooker this week in London.
Breaks of 86 and 73 put him 2-0 up tonight then Robertson got the better of a scrappy third frame before making a 127 for 2-2. A run of 61 in the fifth helped world number five Trump regain the lead and he came from 46-1 down to snatch the next with an excellent 60 clearance.
Australia’s Robertson, who won this event in 2012, took the seventh before Trump made it 5-3 with a 68. World number ten Robertson raised his hopes of a fight-back with a 127 in the ninth, and he had a chance to clear from 48-0 down in the tenth, but crucially missed a tricky red to a centre pocket on 30. That proved his last shot as Trump added 49 for victory.
“It’s a relief to win,” said Trump. “It was edgy out there, we both missed a lot of balls. Towards the end there was a lot of pressure. I’ve managed to nick the bad frames all week, which are the frames I normally lose. I think that’s been the major difference.
“Every game now seems to be about my safety. It’s pleasing because I don’t really think I’ve played that great all week. I’ve never really felt relaxed. I’ve managed to dig in, without playing brilliant snooker I’m making my way through tournaments.
“I’m going to have to raise my game by about 50% to get close to Ronnie. But I’m in with a chance, whereas I’m usually watching the final on TV. I don’t have anything to lose after that performance. Hopefully I can go out there and play somewhere near how I played in Northern Ireland, take the game to him, speed up and go for my shots with confidence.”
Robertson said: “Physically I was exhausted. Playing back to back evening sessions is quite tough. It was really warm out there tonight, and I struggled to hold my concentration at times. Moving forward that’s something to look at, to do some better things physically to make sure I’m always in top condition.
“When you’re playing the night matches it’s important to be sharp. If I carried on playing like that I would have got hammered in the final. Last night I didn’t get to sleep until about 2.30am. That has a knock-on effect.
“I stuck in there. I’m proud of the way I dug in, got it back to 5-4 and had a really good chance to make it 5-5. From that point of view I’m disappointed. I’m sure Judd will play much better than that in the final. I felt as though I dragged him down a little bit tonight.”
The final starts at 1pm.
Today is indeed a different day, and I wouldn’t read too much in Judd’s lack of form yesterday. Since 2015 Ronnie and Judd have played each other six times in finals and its 3-3 in the head-to-head. So, it’s hard to predict. Let’s just try to enjoy it.
Jan Verhaas will be the referee.
And yesterday, the ES pundits went over Ronnie’s history at the Masters again…