Semis Signalling O’Sullivan the Sixth?

The semi-finals have reached the midway point with contrasting conclusions set for both at the Crucible in Sheffield.

The two matches may boast similar enough scorelines but their outcomes are likely to be polarised opposites.

The tie between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Barry Hawkins looks set for an early climax but the battle of worlds no.1 and 2 Neil Robertson and Mark Selby could be poised to provide late night drama on Saturday.

Two-time defending champion O’Sullivan returns for his third session out of a possible four with Hawkins this evening with a hefty 11-5 advantage.

The ‘Rocket’ was looking odds on to complete his second successive victory with a session to spare when he raced into a 10-2 lead over his fellow Englishman this morning after reeling off an impressive nine frames on the bounce.

However, Hawkins, to his credit, hung in there and managed to take three out of the last four frames to trail by just six – and still in with a slim chance of progressing to the final himself.

In reality, though, it is more a case of damage control for the 2013 runner-up as he seeks to at the very least avoid the undesirable fate of being dumped a full session early.

O’Sullivan, on the other hand, will undoubtedly be focused tonight as he attempts to earn himself of a full day off on Saturday – invaluable recuperation time following a marathon fortnight on the baize.

Not only can the 38 year-old put his feet up and relax prior to Sunday and Monday’s final, he can do so in the villainous knowledge that his eventual opponent could well be a spent force following a grueling last four clash of their own.

Of course, O’Sullivan still needs six frames to even entertain such thoughts but his standard of play appears to be increasing in quality as the tournament progresses, an ominous sign for any challenger.

If the five-time champion’s advance is indeed a formality, as it would appear, O’Sullivan is set to feature in his third final in a row, stretching his run of unbeaten matches at the venue to 14.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final encounter could not be any more different, despite the fact that Leicester’s Selby appeared to be in control and heading toward a 10-6 overnight lead before a missed routine black off the spot allowed Robertson to pull to within two at just 9-7 adrift.

As O’Sullivan rattles off one quick frame after another, Australian Robertson and 2007 finalist Selby are engrossed in a titanic tussle that has an ultimate deciding frame thriller written all over it.

Terrific tactical nous coupled with some heavy scoring in this affair has encapsulated all of the elements of the game that makes the sport so compelling.

Yet, one suspects that whoever emerges triumphant on Saturday evening will be at a distinct disadvantage having not had sufficient time to prepare for the final showdown.

Both Robertson, the 2010 champion, and Selby have the game to overcome O’Sullivan on their day, but mental and even physical fatigue could play a vital role in ruining their chances.

Selby may have built up a small cushion but he is a notoriously bad front-runner, perhaps highlighted by his elementary mistake in Friday’s 16th frame, while his opponent is not exactly the type to succumb to defeat easily.

As we edge ever closer to this year’s final, the signs are that Ronnie O’Sullivan is edging nearer to etching his name on the famous trophy for a sixth time.

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