Ronnie O’Sullivan remains undefeated this season after beating Luo Honghao in a high-scoring affair to reach the English Open semi-final at the K2 in Crawley on Friday.
The defending champion opened the contest with superb runs of 118 and 90 but lost three frames on the spin as the WSF Championship winner defied his rookie status to move in front with a wonderful break of 136.
But O’Sullivan crucially won the next two frames after his opponent had been in first, knocking in breaks of 73 and 82 before sealing the 5-3 victory in the next.
The sixth frame, when the “Rocket” trailed 3-2 and was on the ropes, proved to be somewhat controversial as a foul went unnoticed during his run that restored parity.
O’Sullivan wasn’t happy about the situation when told afterwards on Eurosport and offered to the replay the match, although the likelihood of that actually happening is slim to zero.
Regardless of the misfortune, it was a terrific outing from 18 year-old Luo, who was featuring at this stage of a ranking event for the first time in his fledgling career and joins a large of crop of young players from China who are set to make their mark in the higher echelons.
Yet, it’s the experienced O’Sullivan who marches on at a venue he earlier in the week remarked as a hellhole and smelled of urine before duly knocking in a record 15th maximum break of his career.
The winner of last month’s lucrative Shanghai Masters will next take on Mark Davis, who will be attempting to make it sixth time lucky and reach the final of a tournament of this status for the first time at the age of 46.
Davis, a pro for almost three decades, recently admitted that he would be trying everything in his power to land a maiden ranking trophy before the end of his long tenure on the circuit and he has put himself in firm position to do so after taking advantage of tip woes from Ryan Day to inflict a 5-1 defeat on the Welshman.
However, the task couldn’t be greater for Davis, a three-time Six Red world champion, as he challenges the most intimidating force in the game.
O’Sullivan unsurprisingly boasts a superior head-to-head record from their eight previous clashes and it would be a huge upset to see him fall at this stage of the competition, when the bigger cheques and the Steve Davis Trophy are about to be handed out.
Realistically, the bigger danger lies on the opposite side of the English Open semi-final draw, with Stuart Bingham and Stephen Maguire set to first go toe-to-toe for a place in Sunday’s showdown for glory.
Bingham outscored Ali Carter for a 5-2 win, a key 70 clearance in the sixth frame proving the catalyst to break free of the “Captain” who had done well up until that point to hang on.
Maguire, meanwhile, fired in breaks of 102, 94, 75, and 58 to deny Noppon Saengkham a third semi-final berth of 2018 and temporarily halt his rapid ascension up the ranks.
Maguire and Bingham are both well accustomed to featuring at late stages of big tournaments but there’s perhaps a little added pressure on both to take advantage of this opportunity as they are each in the midst of fighting for the right to compete in the prestigious Masters early next year.
There hasn’t been much to separate the pair from their prior battles down the years, underlined perfectly in their most important fixture at the 2013 Welsh Open when Maguire edged Bingham 9-8 to claim the last of his five ranking titles.
Bingham, on the other hand, is chasing the fifth of his career and alongside O’Sullivan could become the first player to win two Home Nations events since the series was launched in 2016.
It’s difficult to see passed O’Sullivan making another final but the first English Open semi-final affair between Maguire and Bingham has the makings of one that’ll go right to the wire.