The 2016 BetVictor Welsh Open will have its dream final after Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson both won tricky semi-final ties in Cardiff on Saturday.
Robertson looked like he was struggling when he found himself 2-0 down to Mark Allen, sitting in his chair as he looked set to go even further behind.
However, a crucial foul in which Allen touched a red ball with the rest allowed Robertson in for a reprieve, which he took with an excellent clearance to get on the scoreboard.
The galvanised Australian continued to take advantage of any error from Allen, reeling off five frames in a row with runs of 82, 75, 72, 54 and 51 to go one frame away from victory.
Allen fought gallantly in typical fashion to reduce his arrears to one, scoring an impressive 124 along the way, and had a chance to force a decider in the tenth frame but rattled a difficult red along the side cushion when on a clearance.
Robertson duly punished the mistake to move into his first Welsh Open final since 2007.
The clash, though tight on paper, clearly demonstrated the major difference between the pair.
Allen’s inability to seize the moment when on top cost him the chance of boasting an important lead at the mid-session interval, while once Robertson settled he, by contrast, clearly demonstrated the ruthless manner in which he can dismantle opponent’s challenges.
Meanwhile, the last four affair between O’Sullivan and Joe Perry had big breaks aplenty before the Rocket secured a 6-3 triumph.
Only the first frame, which the ‘Rocket’ took on the colours, lacked a break above 50 as the duo traded blow for blow in the early parts of the contest.
Perry responded with a superb 139 to level, only for O’Sullivan to knock in a 124 in return.
A 92 from Perry ensured that proceedings were level at the interval but O’Sullivan the moved up a further gear with runs of 101, 94 and 88 to go 5-2 in front.
Perry prolonged the inevitable with a break of 56 before O’Sullivan sealed the win with a 78, concluding another day of heavy scoring at the Motorpoint Arena.
The result is a mouth-watering prospect between arguably the two best players in the world at present.
Between them, Robertson and O’Sullivan have accounted for the last three major tournaments in the UK.
The Melbourne man captured the Champion of Champions and UK Championship in O’Sullivan’s absence while, upon his return from a self-inflicted hiatus, Ronnie collected his sixth Masters title in Januray.
As this tournament was progressing, and particularly after O’Sullivan’s thrashing of world no.1 Mark Selby, most people were coming to the conclusion that only Robertson could stand in the way of a 28th ranking title for the 40 year-old.
But even so, O’Sullivan is playing to such a high standard that it will take Robertson, an 11-time ranking event winner himself, performing at his absolute best if he is to overcome this challenge.
Ever since the controversial 146 break in the first round, where O’Sullivan refused to make a maximum, created so many headlines around the world, the five-time world champion has appeared in a mood to prove to everyone just how good he is, and just how valuable to the sport he can be.
In Robertson’s favour is his temperament – a level head, sense of focus and determination that is unlikely to prompt the same collapse under pressure that Barry Hawkins suffered in the Masters final at Alexandra Palace.
The 34 year-old has previously got one over O’Sullivan in a UK-based final too, albeit in the 2010 butchered World Open – the old Grand Prix – in which the showdown was a mere best of nine.
Sunday’s contest will be played across two sessions so there is plenty of time for twists and turns to ensue.
Robertson’s game plan will undoubtedly be to keep the match as tight as possible but O’Sullivan’s long potting and subsequent break-building have been so impressive – he’s knocked in nine centuries – that it’s hard to see how the ‘Thunder from Down Under’ can cope over the distance.
Everyone is aware of O’Sullivan’s knack of falling apart mentally on occasion but the closer he gets to another trophy, the less likely that is to occur.
Robertson’s best hope may be to try and match his opponent in the scoring stakes, something we all know the 2010 world champion is capable of doing.
Either way, it promises to be a fascinating conclusion to what has already been a very entertaining Welsh Open.
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