Today, the final two sessions of the 2012 World Championship will be played and, with it, comes the conclusion of a jam-packed and memorable season.
Ronnie O’Sullivan grafted a three-frame overnight cushion over Ali Carter following yesterday’s intriguing battle to lead 10-7.
Neither player were at their imperial best but both scrapped well when it was needed in their own respective cases.
I say that neither player performed at their peak but, for two frames at least, O’Sullivan orchestrated snooker from the gods.
His 92 clearance to go one clear in the seventh frame was simply out of this world and up there with one of the most remarkable dishes ever – if you see where the balls were situated when he approached the table you will understand why.
In the following frame, the three-time champion compiled a magnificent 141 total clearance, the highest ever break in a World Championship final, as his most devastating fluidity around the baize sprung into motion.
Ronnie probably wished he could have stayed out in the arena at that point but the second session was a more dogged affair with prolonged safety battles in most of the session’s nine frames.
Maintaining a two or three frame lead at all times, O’Sullivan did well to hold off his opponent when he did manage to get to within touching distance.
Likewise, though, Carter knuckled down valiantly as soon as he fell four behind for the first time at 9-5 and it looked for all money as if his frustrations were going to get the better of him.
Claiming two of the last three frames was as timely a feat as they come and Carter will well realise that winning this afternoon’s session will put him right in the mix.
That said, it is likely that two things are needed to happen in order for Carter to realistically still have any chance of upsetting the odds on Bank Holiday Monday.
The first is that the ‘Captain’ simply has to be more attacking in amongst the balls – his safety has been competitive but his break-building has been, well, woeful so far.
While it is possible for Carter to find some inspiration, the second stipulation is less likely.
I don’t think anyone can argue that this is the calmest and most focussed Ronnie O’Sullivan in many years, probably since he overcame Carter to win the 2008 title.
A zen like Ronnie, patient and content to win at any cost, and not just by producing sublime snooker, is an ominous entity in this sport – there is no-one quite like him in this mood and Carter will be desperate for a mini-collapse from O’Sullivan to offer him a helping hand.
Today is the final chapter of what has been an enthralling book of a campaign. The question is will it be opening a new page in the ‘Rocket’s’ life?
Carter hinted at retirement for the first time before Christmas as he battled with Crohn’s disease and a lack of form but I don’t think anyone expects him to follow through with that now following such an impressive run to the final.
On the other hand, O’Sullivan has threatened quitting the game ever since he emerged as a teenager in the mid-90s and once again brought up the prospect following his semi-final defeat of Matthew Stevens – suggesting that there would be no better way to go out than at the top.
Many will brush his statements off with scepticism and perhaps rightly so. But, in my opinion, there was more sincerity on this occasion.
For the first time in an age, and in truth he has exuded this front all year, O’Sullivan does not appear hindered or influenced by the extremity of varying emotions inside his own head.
His statements were made more peacefully and almost with a resigned sentiment of inevitability.
It is for this reason that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him announce his leave of absence tonight, win or lose, but, of course, neither would I be shocked to see him back on the Tour next season slogging it out like the rest of them – or for both to even occur.
As always, we will have to just wait and see.
That could well be or not be the dominating story in tomorrow’s news but either way today is about one thing only – the quest for snooker’s holy grail and the reward for an arduous 17 days of combat.