Ronnie O'Sullivan eases past Barry Hawkins as quest to regain title continues
Ronnie O'Sullivan booked his place in the final of the Dafabet World Championship after he defeated Barry Hawkins 17-7 in their semi-final on Friday.
The defending champion had stretched his lead to 11-5 after the morning session, and despite his opponent going close to winning the three frames he needed to force the match into a deciding session on Saturday, O'Sullivan was always in control.
'The Rocket' punished the mistakes made by Hawkins to give himself a day off as he recorded breaks of 76, 55, 103 and 84 in the evening session on the way to setting up a final showdown with either Mark Selby or Neil Robertson.
It means O'Sullivan will compete in his sixth World Championship final.
At one stage it seemed to be becoming a formality for O'Sullivan to win a second match in a row with the added humiliation for his opponent of failing to go the distance, as he burned to a 10-2 lead after breaks of 83, 53, 112 and 106.
Shaun Murphy had suffered a snooker annihilation at the hands of O'Sullivan in the quarter-finals, taking a 13-3 pasting.
Hawkins finished for lunch with a terrific 106 break but could only take two frames in the evening session, one with a break of 67, as he again struggled to find the groove.
Against O'Sullivan, the man who beat him in the final last May, the 35-year-old Kent potter needed to pull out his best form, but in the end his opponent had too much for him and came through with a session to spare.
Hawkins was out of sorts as they began the morning, gifting O'Sullivan openings and having to stay seated while the five-time world champion scoffed down the chances.
O'Sullivan, remarkably, had potted his first 100 balls of the morning in the time it took Hawkins to sink just five.
The 20-minute mid-session interval allowed Hawkins to regroup, and he took two of the next three frames before making it three from four with the century break as O'Sullivan lost some of his sparkle.
Yet with Robertson and Selby contesting the other semi-final - a match that is guaranteed to finish on Saturday - the chance to take a day-long breather between matches was appealing and in the end achievable for the man chasing a hat-trick of consecutive titles in Sheffield, as he claimed the six frames he needed to progress.
World number one Robertson and 2007 Crucible runner-up Selby were engaged in a gripping contest and their second session came with a wicked late twist.
Having looked like remaining close all the way through to Saturday evening's scheduled final session, Selby pulled away from 7-6 and appeared certain to seize an overnight 10-6 advantage.
But having reached 53 on a brisk visit in the 16th frame, Selby missed an easy black and presented Robertson with a chance he could not afford to refuse. Duly the Australian rifled in a break of 61 that meant he halved the session and will resume in the morning just 9-7 adrift.
The session had begun rich in promise for Robertson, as he buzzed from 5-3 behind at the start to 5-5, reaching parity with a break of 113, the 102nd century of his record-breaking season.
Robertson had fought from 5-1 behind to beat Selby in the final of December's UK Championship, but this time the Leicester potter was not proving so easy to swat aside.
Out went Selby's lead to two frames again at 7-5, and despite Robertson punching in a break of 72 to cut the gap, the 2010 world champion soon found himself staring at a probable four-frame overnight deficit.
From his seat Robertson would have feared the worst as Selby piled on the points, but the blunder on the black allowed the 32-year-old back in, and his classy clearance to the pink brought a satisfying reward.
They return at 10am on Saturday, before playing to a finish at night.