World Championship Semi-Final Preview

So after a dozen days at the Crucible, we have finally reached the one-table set-up at the 2014 World Championship.

As Shaun Murphy eluded earlier in the tournament, everything up until the semi-finals is just the aperitif to the main course that is the business end of proceedings when you have the entire arena, and therefore crowd, to yourself.

2014 World Championship PosterThe 2005 champion wont be tucking into that main course, though, as a crushing defeat to the defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan ensured that he’d be left craving his second crown for another year.

The players who do remain, however, are no mere scraps of an already entertaining event, but the garnished cuisine of snooker’s Main Tour.

Only Ding Junhui, five-time ranking event winner on the circuit this season, is missing out of the top five seeds, but that hardly counts for much when he is replaced with the world no.4.

The pedigree of the subsequent trio speak for the themselves.

Let’s then, have a look at both matches as the quartet battle it out in the season’s finale.

Semi-Final #1
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Barry Hawkins

The first semi-final encounter provides a repeat of the 2013 final between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Barry Hawkins.

That the latter played so well in that match but was still only able to take 12 frames off O’Sullivan was testament to how much of a procession last year’s tournament was for the ‘Rocket’.

Things haven’t been quite as easy this time around for the 38 year-old but it hasn’t been far off.

Playing nowhere near his best, O’Sullivan coasted past Robin Hull in the first round before being tested to the max in his last 16 clash with Joe Perry.

The Englishman was 11-9 down at the final mid-session interval before reeling off an imperious four frames, the last two featuring century breaks, to stay alive in the tournament amid fist pumps and adulation from the adoring public.

His latest tie with Shaun Murphy looked like it might follow a similar path when his opponent opened with two stylish frames but the affair ended one-sided, as a succession of errors from Murphy led O’Sullivan in to capitalise.

The match ended 13-3, O’Sullivan able to benefit with some extra time off having finished the job with a session to spare.

Hawkins’ quarter-final could not have been any more different.

The 35 year-old had already played well in coming through potentially tricky hurdles in David Gilbert and Ricky Walden, and it appeared as if he was romping to another stylish victory over surprise package Dominic Dale in the last eight.

Yet, with an 11-5 lead going into the third session, the pressure began to mount as the Welshman drew back one more frame after another until, eventually, the game was tied at 11-11.

Only twice before had a player come back from 11-5 down to win a best-of-25 encounter at the Crucible but when Dale then went on to open up a 12-11 advantage the possibility of a third occasion appeared more likely.

But PTC Grand Finals champion Hawkins dug deep, as champions tend to do in times of adversity, and gutsy breaks of 66 and 65 in the final two frames sealed a taxing triumph.

Whether or not Hawkins will feel the effects of such a mentally draining affair remains to be seen, but either way O’Sullivan begins this last four clash as the overwhelming favourite.

The five-time champion hasn’t played at his best, but is still well on his way to lifting the trophy for a sixth time, which is an ominous sign for the rest of the field.

Hawkins is one of the most improved players on the circuit but one suspects it will take a monumental effort to overcome O’Sullivan.

The pair have met on seven previous occasions with the ‘Hawk’ only emerging successful in one of those, the first meeting way back in 2002.

It goes without saying that Hawkins must keep things as close as possible throughout the contest because if O’Sullivan gains any sort of lead it will become almost unattainable.

Hawkins is a worthy semi-finalist, of that there is no doubt, and to get this far in support of his run to the final last year is laudable, but O’Sullivan’s experience and firepower at will should prove the overall difference in this one.

Predicted Winner: Ronnie O’Sullivan

Semi-Final #2
Mark Selby vs Neil Robertson

The second semi-final consists of the worlds no.1 and no.2.

While Hawkins may not be capable of dismantling O’Sullivan’s quest for another title, prime rival Selby and Australian super-scorer Robertson certainly are.

It took Robertson 22 frames in his duel with Judd Trump to finally record his incredible 100th ton of the campaign.

In truth, I’m pretty sure the weight of expectation, both from the media and what he put on his own shoulders himself, at having to achieve the rare feat overwhelmed his ability to play his own game against Trump for the majority of the encounter.

For that reason, the Melbourne man looked to be in dire straits as he went 11-8 down and seemingly heading for an unlikely early exit.

Yet, the 32 year-old displayed all the skills necessary to oversee the comeback and grind his opponent’s charge to a halt.

Robertson is a World, UK and Masters champion after all.

The emotion Robertson expelled after his magical ton of tons was finally completed revealed how much the achievement meant to him and what a groundbreaking moment for the sport it really was.

That some people in social media spheres felt it necessary to slander his outcry, including fellow tour players, typified people’s requirement for complaint amid something genuinely good.

At any rate, with the record now firmly in the books, Robertson can focus more clearly on the task at hand of winning his first world title in four years.

If Trump provided him with a stern examination then the test of Selby will be an even greater one.

After overcoming Ali Carter in the last 16, Selby would probably have been secretly pleased to be facing veteran Alan McManus in his latest bout.

The 43 year-old Scot had enjoyed his best run at the Crucible for nine years but it was always going to be difficult to maintain a high level of performance against Selby.

And so it proved as a second session rampage from the ‘Jester’ all but assured his progression, with the 30 year-old needing just one further frame in the final session to reach the last four for the third time.

Robertson and Selby have had several battles at the latter stages of events in the last couple of seasons, with the latter the all-conqueror at the 2013 Masters before Robertson’s revenge at both the China Open and UK Championship finals of the same calendar year.

This one is hard to call but the manner of Robertson’s comeback win over Trump, coupled with fact that some of the pressure he felt from the centuries facade has now since elapsed, might give him a fresh lease of life as he bids to reach a second final.

Either way, this encounter has fourth session Saturday afternoon drama written all over it, which again could prove pivotal come the weekend’s final when stamina really begins to play a part in this ‘Marathon of the Mind’.

Predicted Winner: Neil Robertson

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