Rocket roars back to take World Championship advantage
First-time finalist Barry Hawkins felt the full force of a Ronnie O'Sullivan onslaught after having the impudence to edge ahead in the climax to the Betfair World Championship.
For the first time in the tournament, O'Sullivan trailed, with Hawkins surging from 2-0 behind to 3-2 in front as his big-match nerves settled.
But back came the defending champion in scintillating fashion, O'Sullivan firing breaks of 76, 113 and 100 to seize a 5-3 advantage ahead of this evening's second session.
If this is to be his final World Championship, as he has suggested, O'Sullivan would like to leave more great memories before bowing out, and his back-to-back centuries were certainly breaks to savour, each flashing by in under nine minutes.
They moved him level with Hendry's record of 127 career centuries at the Crucible, which looks ripe to be broken before the best-of-35-frames match is out.
So effortless they seemed, the 37-year-old making light of the fact that at 3.47pm on the penultimate day of this marathon event Hawkins inflicted a chink in his armour. A frame-winning break of 50 from Hawkins to reach 3-2 caused tongues to wag, as the widely anticipated stroll to the title began to look rather treacherous.
O'Sullivan had been roared into the arena, almost as firm a favourite for the title as the great racehorse Black Caviar was for the races towards the end of her career.
Many in the crowd had come in the expectation of an O'Sullivan masterclass, and he began strongly with breaks of 74 and 92 securing a two-frame lead.
Hawkins was wobbling, with the occasion far greater than any the 34-year-old world number 14 from Kent has known in his 17 years as a professional.
But Hawkins drilled in a superb long red at the start of frame three and made it count by making a break of 88, following it with a remarkable 81 which he skilfully built around the blue ball, with pink and black both unavailable.
Hawkins then returned from a dressing-room pep talk at the interval from his coach, the 1979 world champion Terry Griffiths, to move in front.
But in the space of barely half an hour O'Sullivan rattled off three frames, looking silky smooth even though he was far from happy with the way the table was playing, grumbling to himself and sharing his view with Hawkins as they departed the arena. More than once in the session he had swept the baize and side cushions with his hands, convinced they were unsuitable.
O'Sullivan is in his fifth World Championship final and has yet to lose one. He is also aiming to be the first man since Stephen Hendry in 1996 to successfully defend the title in Sheffield.
Hawkins knew that tonight he had to stay in touch with him.