Monday 22 January 2018

Snooker: Higgins and O'Sullivan inseparable at Crucible

Inseparable: Higgins and O'Sullivan. Photo: Getty Images
Inseparable: Higgins and O'Sullivan. Photo: Getty Images

John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan exchanged heavy fire in their World Championship quarter-final at the Crucible yesterday before an overnight truce was reached at 4-4.

From 4-2 and 35-0 behind, O'Sullivan conjured an exquisite 89 break and followed it with a rapid 105 in which referee Leo Scullion was almost chasing him around the table to respot the colours.

The official from Glasgow twice almost tripped over television cameras while the crowd marvelled at the way O'Sullivan finished the session. The match will resume this afternoon. Higgins never had any doubt the contest with O'Sullivan would be an experience to savour.

"It's always a great occasion, wherever you play him," he said. "He's got the Jimmy White and Alex Higgins factor. The crowd are on his side and that generates a buzz that you love playing in.

"Playing O'Sullivan anywhere probably generates the same buzz as playing in a final against most other people."

It was appropriate they should finish on level terms, seeing as the parallels between the pair are impossible to ignore. Both men are 35 years old, have three World titles behind them and entered this contest level on 104 Crucible centuries. Make that 105 now, after O'Sullivan's closing ton and Higgins' total clearance of 121 in the sixth frame.

Higgins holds the edge in the number of ranking events they have won, 23 in his case to O'Sullivan's 22, after landing the UK Championship and Welsh Open titles since his return from a six-month suspension.

O'Sullivan pitched up in Sheffield having not won a match in a ranking event since September, and having threatened to stay at home, but his focus has returned.

Yet Higgins will know he should be leading. On a break of 35 in frame seven, he missed a straightforward black off its spot and O'Sullivan was quick to punish.

Fifteen years have passed since O'Sullivan and Higgins first met at the Crucible. It finished 13-12 in the quarter-finals to the Englishman that time and this could go the same way,

There have been more clashes in Sheffield, most notably in the 2001 final when O'Sullivan landed his first world title, taking that match 18-14.

Mark Selby was favourite for the title as he headed into his quarter-final against China's Ding Junhui, who had come from 12-9 behind to beat Stuart Bingham 13-12 in the second round. But Selby faces a scrap today after Ding opened a 5-3 lead over the Leicester potter.

Selby had a tournament record of six centuries in his last-16 win against Stephen Hendry and began with another yesterday against Ding, 124 in the first frame.

However, Ding then strung together four frames in a row, featuring breaks of 58, 53, 63 and 65.

Selby made it 4-2 with runs of 51 and 87, but Ding guaranteed himself an overnight lead with 77 in frame seven. Selby finished with 74 to stay in the hunt.

World Championships, Live, BBC2 1.40 & 7.0, Eurosport 10.0, 2.30 & 8.0

Irish Independent

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