Fan Zhengyi held his nerve under pressure to secure the biggest win of his career with a 10-9 victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final of the European Masters.
In a season that has seen one of his practice partners Zhao Xintong make the breakthrough, Fan claimed the first title of his career.
The stars aligned for the 21-year-old, as he came up against an O’Sullivan who was way short of the form he produced earlier in the week and he had more than his share of luck.
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But he needed to convert, and he did exactly that in a tense final session at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.
Fan had a few hours to reflect on losing the final two frames of the afternoon, but he settled immediately with a break of 135 - the highest of his professional career - moving him back in front.
Before the start of the 10th frame, O’Sullivan had an altercation with a photographer. He has been consistent in demanding snappers use a tripod, but it was an unwelcome distraction.
He got in first, but did not take advantage and Fan hit his second century of the night to open up a two-frame lead.
O’Sullivan stemmed the tide when taking the 11th, despite his opponent getting a huge slice of luck when potting two reds after a wild missed attempt.
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Fan had a fair portion of luck in the 12th, twice getting fortunate when running out of position, but he was unable to cash in as O’Sullivan took it to draw level at the mid-session interval.
As in the afternoon session, Fan emerged from the mid-session interval to take the frame. He did so in dramatic circumstances. O’Sullivan got out into a handy lead, only to break down and his opponent made a series of good pots to get control. But he missed a black off its spot to hand the chance to O’Sullivan.
Unexpectedly, he lost position from green to brown and Fan came to the table, knocked in a brilliant brown and blue and saw the pink wriggle in the jaws of left middle before gravity won out to move back in front at 7-6.
Fan restored a two-frame cushion when taking the 14th frame, but again he had fortune on his side. He missed a series of pots, but on each occasion he did not leave O’Sullivan anything easy.
Fan got to the stage where O’Sullivan required a snooker. He set about a counter and knocked in two excellent reds, and attempted a snooker on the final red - only to see it drop in the pocket and he promptly conceded.
It was a long time in coming, but O’Sullivan produced a clean kill in the 15th - as his 10th ton of the week reduced the deficit to one.
The fluency of the 15th was followed by a scrappy passage of play in the 16th, but it was O’Sullivan who edged it to draw level from two frames behind for the third time in the contest.
A theme of the contest was O'Sullivan drawing level and Fan re-establishing his lead. It continued in the 17th, as he took the frame to move within one of the winning line. O’Sullivan did the hard work for Fan by splitting the pack only to fall awkwardly on the pink. It did not drop into the middle and the youngster stepped in with a composed break of 83.
For the second frame in a row, O’Sullivan split the pack superbly but did not get on a colour. After missing the blue and cannoning in the yellow, it handed a chance to Fan but he could muster only 23 and O’Sullivan took his chance when it came his way to force a decider.
Fan proved earlier in the week that he had the bottle to get over the line in tense situations.
His chance came after O’Sullivan went agonisingly close with a long red, and he kept the cue ball on a tight rein to secure victory with a break of 92 and become the fifth Chinese player to win a ranking title, and with it a place in the top 50 and the career opportunities that will now come his way.
Ronnie O’Sullivan took the final two frames to escape on level terms at 4-4 with Fan Zhengyi after the first session of the European Masters final.
O’Sullivan was imperious in advancing to the final in Milton Keynes, but he appeared a different player for much of Sunday afternoon at the Marshall Arena.
But he pounced on a routine missed black off its spot from Fan in the seventh frame to take that and the eighth to get out of the session on level terms.
O’Sullivan took the opener, but Fan hit back by seizing on O’Sullivan errors to take the second and third frames.
The 2003 winner of the event was able to get on level terms at the interval despite being nowhere near the form of earlier in the week.
There was hope that the 15-minute interval would provide a reset for O’Sullivan, but it was not the case as Fan took frames five and six to ensure he would return in the evening on level terms at worst.
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After establishing a two-frame cushion, it was Fan who made errors in the seventh. He had demonstrated excellent safety earlier in the match, but a dreaded double kiss on a red handed a chance to O’Sullivan.
Aside from his battling win over Zhang Anda, O’Sullivan’s play was of a very high level earlier in the week.
It was way below that on Sunday afternoon, and he could only muster a run of 37 in the seventh before breaking down, with the pots that did drop not finding the middle of the pockets.
Fan had a big chance to open up a 5-2 lead, but missed a routine black off its spot and O’Sullivan was able to scramble over the line and cut the gap to one.
Going into the final frame of the afternoon, O’Sullivan’s highest break had been 47. He put that right in the eighth.
O’Sullivan is known for his silky, quicksilver break building. It was anything but in the eighth, with the black out of commission, but he was able to put together a run of 83 to drawl level heading into the evening.
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