Ronnie O’Sullivan won the last two frames of a gripping encounter to beat Judd Trump 6-5 on Saturday and move into the final of the Players Championship in Wales.
In a clash that fully lived up to its billing with big breaks, high drama, and a thrilling conclusion conjuring up at the packed Venue Cymru, O’Sullivan just about stayed on course for a record-equalling fifth ranking event title of the season.
It was Trump who made the better early running, compiling a break of 74 in the opening frame after a tentative start from both players and adding the second frame for a 2-0 cushion.
O’Sullivan soon got on the board, though, and duly constructed a magnificent 143 total clearance – the highest break of the tournament so far – in the frame before the mid-session interval to gain parity in the scoreline.
The “Rocket” appeared to assemble a modicum of control when a run of 71 took him in front for the first time but Trump responded brilliantly with his first century of the match to level, and the pair traded the next two frames to see the score advance to 4-4.
At this stage, it was much too difficult to pick a winner but Trump went within one frame of what would have been a telling triumph courtesy of a superb 123.
However, the 28 year-old’s bottle under pressure in the key moments, as it has done on numerous occasions in the past, was again brought into question after his esteemed opponent was able to force the decider.
Trump, the winner of the European Masters this season but with painful defeats to O’Sullivan in the Shanghai Masters final and to Kyren Wilson in the semi-finals of the Masters to banish from his memory, got in with a first chance in the eleventh frame after a re-rack and a had the game at his mercy, but inexplicably ran out of position and duly went in-off with the the white to gift the opportunity to O’Sullivan.
The five-time world champion accepted it and a calm run of 67 was enough to see him move into the final, where he’ll face either Mark Williams or Shaun Murphy for the silverware.
It’s tough to be too critical on Trump as for most of the tie he produced a gutsy display against easily the best player in the world at present but once more he’ll be left to wonder what might have been.
By contrast, O’Sullivan is riding the crest of a wave of success during this campaign as he produces arguably the best and most consistent form of his entire illustrious career.
In Saturday’s fixture, Williams and Murphy will face each other for the second spot in Sunday’s final, where a £125,000 champion’s cheque will be up for grabs.
Williams ended fellow Welshman Ryan Day’s incredible run of 12 straight wins with a 6-3 quarter-final victory on Thursday while Murphy, who missed two events in March through injury, came through a gruelling four-hour jostle with Anthony McGill in another decider on Friday.
Like O’Sullivan, albeit to a lesser extent, Williams and Murphy have been forces to be reckoned with at various points of this season.
Williams has won three tournaments, including bringing his career ranking event tally up to 20, while Murphy’s disappointment in losing in a hat-trick of ranking finals has been countered by his brilliant triumph in the Champion of Champions – at the expense of none other than O’Sullivan.
This will be the first time that the pair has crossed paths this season and Williams will be hoping to lean on the support of the crowd as well as his superior head-to-head record to progress on home soil.
It would perhaps be fitting if the tournament, which boasts the top 16 money earners from the season, concludes with the top two on that list and there wouldn’t be many who would argue with a bout between legends O’Sullivan and Williams.
But Murphy will have plenty of say about that and if he were to move forward it would set up a season decider against his fellow Englishman after beating O’Sullivan in Coventry but losing out to him in the final of the UK Championship in December.