Ronnie O’Sullivan produced some scintillating snooker to see off Neil Robertson and reach the semi-finals of the World Championship for the first time since 2008.
Of course, that year the ‘Rocket’ went on to claim his third title against Ali Carter and he is arguably in his best form since that period.
The former world no1 resumed 5-3 behind to the 2010 champion but reeled off six frames on the bounce to take a commanding foothold in the clash.
Robertson, to his credit, battled valiantly as he shouldered the chorus of Ronnie chants from the partisan crowd inside the Crucible – the pair enjoying the arena to themselves after Stephen Hendry’s premature exit last night – and the 30 year-old took the last two frames of the second session to trail by only two.
The comeback looked on when he won the opener this evening but, after missing a black off the spot, O’Sullivan immediately turned on the afterburners with a hat-trick of high breaks that included stunning back-to-back centuries to go within one frame of the last four.
Indeed, the second of those tons was compiled in just five minutes as he found the fluidity and guile that, on this form, separates him in class from just about everyone else in the sport.
Billed beforehand as effectively the final, Robertson typically didn’t go down without a fight and claimed successive frames to hint at a famous turnaround.
Yet, O’Sullivan, as relaxed and composed as any time in recent memory, was never going to wilt under the pressure and put a stop to any late heroics by wrapping up the contest with two frames to spare.
In reality, Robertson’s personal playing style is his own downfall and he admitted as much afterwards.
For some reason, the six-time ranking event champion as well as this season’s Masters victor feels the need to bog himself down in slow, protracted play that considerably affects his rhythm.
What makes it strange is that there is no creditable reason for this as when he is aggressive he exudes all the traits of being the best player in the world.
By contrast, his opponent today displayed all the characteristics of confidence and revealed that he purposely levelled up on the aggression to put Robertson under pressure.
Pundits may have been slightly hasty in labelling this encounter as the one that will decide this year’s eventual champion but it is hard to argue with the fact that O’Sullivan is now the overwhelming favourite.
Stephen Maguire looked awesome in his demolition of Hendry but he wasn’t put under any pressure and has had a reputation of struggling against O’Sullivan – indeed, losing to him in the German Masters final in February after establishing a healthy lead.
O’Sullivan’s obstacle to a fourth final in Sheffield will be Matthew Stevens after the Welshman completed his rout over countryman Ryan Day, 13-5.
Stevens was 5-2 down at one stage but rattled off eleven frames in a row as a despondent Day – you might think that’s a record at the Crucible but another Wales potter in Mark Williams once won thirteen on the trot against Quinten Hann.
Twice a runner-up, Stevens will have to up his game dramatically if he has any realistic aspirations of beating O’Sullivan as he didn’t really play all that well despite the convincing scoreline.
Finally, many will believe that Maguire will have a similarly simple route against Ali Carter, who ended debutant Jamie Jones incredible journey 13-11.
But that fails to take into account that the Scot has never been beyond the semi-finals in this championship while Carter has that important stat in his bank.
While it’s hard to bet against O’Sullivan, history, and this tournament itself, has proved to act cautiously before counting your winnings just yet.
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