Wednesday 25 April 2018

Snooker: O'Sullivan takes eye off ball to give Stevens hope

Ronnie O'Sullivan and Matthew Stevens during their semi final match. Photo: PA
Ronnie O'Sullivan and Matthew Stevens during their semi final match. Photo: PA

John Skilbeck

Ronnie O'Sullivan has not seemed like a man in need of a helping hand as he pursues a fourth World Championship title, but he benefited from the sportsmanship of Matthew Stevens last night.

Stevens called a costly foul on himself -- one which referee Brendan Moore and O'Sullivan had apparently not spotted -- in the second frame of an opening semi-final session from which he came out trailing 5-3.

It was a rare moment worthy of note, another being a fire alarm that sounded in the opening frame, as Stevens and O'Sullivan produced a session to forget.

Welsh potter Stevens, in his first semi-final since 2005, the year that he finished runner-up to Shaun Murphy in his second final, would undoubtedly have taken a 5-3 deficit at the midway point of the session, when he trailed 4-0.

Without hitting the spectacular form which carried him through to the last four, 36-year-old O'Sullivan looked entirely comfortable. His performance after the interval, therefore, was hard to fathom.

Stevens scraped his way back to 4-2, O'Sullivan took a messy seventh frame, before an 80 from the Carmarthen man kept him well in the match. They resume this afternoon and are scheduled to play two sessions tomorrow.

O'Sullivan had entered the match with a phlegmatic attitude, having beaten three former world champions already in the tournament, starting with Peter Ebdon, followed by Mark Williams and Neil Robertson.

The mission, O'Sullivan said, was to savour the occasion. "It's nice to just enjoy the game and play it with a bit of openness. That's my natural game," O'Sullivan said. "As long as I'm cueing well, I feel I can be quite aggressive in the balls and that's the key. That's my game, to be aggressive."

Ali Carter has vowed to win his battles on and off the table as he closes in on Crucible glory. The 32-year-old Essex cueman seized a 5-3 lead after the opening session of his semi-final against Stephen Maguire. Cynical minds might argue theirs is a match where the players are fighting for the right to be beaten by O'Sullivan in the final.

But, like Stevens, Carter is not taking an O'Sullivan triumph as inevitable, and despite suffering a mid-tournament setback in his Crohn's disease struggle, the 2008 runner-up in Sheffield is determined it will not hold him back over the next four days.

Eating a steak this week left Carter -- a slender, otherwise well man -- feeling uncomfortably bloated, a symptom of the bowel condition he has had to manage since being diagnosed in 2003. "Hopefully I can start feeling better if I stick to a lighter diet," he said. "It's a very long match against Stephen but my problems haven't beaten me yet and they're not going to."

Carter and Maguire return today for two further eight-frame sessions, before the best-of-33 match concludes tomorrow afternoon.

Alex Higgins' daughter Lauren was at the Crucible yesterday, with this year's championship marking the 30th anniversary of her late father's second world title triumph. But the standard of play in either match would not have impressed the 'Hurricane'.

World Championships,

Live, BBC2/Eurosport, 1.0, 10.0

Irish Independent

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