Ronnie O’Sullivan was the first man to book his place in the semi-finals of the UK Championship after a hard-fought 6-4 victory over Anthony McGill in York.
Shortly after, fellow Englishman Stuart Bingham booked a meeting with the four-time champion after a similarly tough 6-5 triumph over another Scot, Graeme Dott.
Both encounters could have gone either way, with a few important shots swinging the fortunes of each match.
O’Sullivan, celebrating his 39th birthday a day after his majestic 13th maximum break, was not at his best for large spells of his quarter-final tie but arguably benefited from a lack of experience from his younger opponent on the big stage.
A player who many tip to have a bright future in the game, McGill didn’t disgrace himself by any stretch of the imagination but a couple of glaring misses in successive frames towards the end of the contest gifted O’Sullivan a reprieve when his back appeared to be against the wall.
After trailing 2-0 early on, the ‘Rocket’ seemed to regain control when breaks of 98 and 125 either side of the mid-session interval helped him to a 3-2 advantage.
However, McGill leveled again following a dramatic sixth frame and had great chances in each of the next two only to miss a straightforward yellow and then green off the spot in both frames to gift O’Sullivan a 5-3 lead.
The Glaswegian, whose temperament throughout was superb, continuously playing with a smile on his face as he enjoyed the occasion, responded in style with a 103 to stay in the tie but was powerless when a 97 sealed the deal for a relieved O’Sullivan.
The five-time world champion had kind words to say to both McGill’s face upon their handshake at the conclusion, and also during the press conference where he lavished praise on the 23 year-old.
While O’Sullivan still looks devastatingly good in among the balls, his long potting during this tournament may be of some concern as he approaches the serious end of the competition, with more experienced competitors perhaps better placed to punish his mistakes in imminent contests.
Bingham will certainly provide the former world no.1 with a stern test in the last four.
Indeed, he beat O’Sullivan en route to an appearance at the same stage at the Barbican Centre this time last year.
The Shanghai Masters champion was a little fortunate, though, to still be in with a shout of glory when he found himself 4-1 down to former world champion Dott.
An untimely kick for the ‘Pocket Dynamo’ allowed Bingham in to pull it back to within two frames, before breaks of 108 and 64 helped him to force a decider.
Further misfortune in the 11th frame denied Dott a chance to withstand the comeback, like he did against defending champion Neil Robertson in the previous round, and ‘Ballrun’ pounced with a brilliant 103 to triumph.
A double blow for Dott means that his loss prevents him the opportunity to be invited to the upcoming prestigious Masters tournament at the Alexandra Palace in January.
Later on today, the final two semi-final places will be decided with Mark Davis taking on Judd Trump and Marco Fu facing Stephen Maguire.
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