Ronnie O’Sullivan won a final-frame decider for the third match in a row to beat Li Hang 5-4 and reach the semi-finals of the Scottish Open.
The Rocket was not at his best once again, but he had the resolve and will to win to get over the line. O’Sullivan has spoken about tinkering with his game, and to do it on the fly in Llandudno is no mean feat.
He will face a bigger test against John Higgins on Saturday, but he is showing the fighting spirit that may prove the difference in Wales.
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Li took the first frame after being given a couple of opportunities by O’Sullivan. He took the big chance off the back of an excellent red into the yellow pocket which he flicked into the bag off the brown. The break of 51 was enough to secure the opener.
Aside from his crushing win over Michael Georgiou, O’Sullivan has made slovenly starts to his matches in Llandudno this week. It was a similar story against Li, as the mistakes in the first were followed by some sloppy play in the second.
Li did not take his chances in the second. O’Sullivan got his hand on the table to roll in a mid-range red and it set up a frame-winning contribution.
As in the first two frames, Li was in first in the third. He’s been described by Neil Robertson as the finest player in the world on the outside tables. He raced to a half-century break to suggest the main table is next to be conquered, but he missed a routine red with the frame at his mercy and O’Sullivan stepped in with the ruthlessness of an assassin to move ahead in the match.
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The tables are the same size, they all have six pockets and are covered in green baize. But there’s much to be said for main-table experience.
The slip up in the third frame could easily have rocked Li, but he hit back with an excellent 116 - which was crafted by a spanking three-ball plant - to draw level.
O’Sullivan cut a frustrated figure at the start of the fifth when missing a red, albeit he stopped short of punching the table as he did the previous day. The frustration did not last long, as Li sloppily left the red O’Sullivan missed when playing safe - and he dished up a glorious 83 to move back ahead.
Two-time winner of the event, O’Sullivan got in again in the sixth and looked primed to make a telling contribution, but he ran out of position from red to black. Clearly seething, he threw his arm at a difficult blue into the yellow pocket and it failed to drop - allowing Li in for a break of 53 to level the match.
Both players had chances in the seventh, and O’Sullivan looked in a spot of bother when Li had him welded to the black cushion. He sized up the situation, and pulled off a brilliant double into the right middle. The table was not easy, but he picked it open with a break of 80 to move back in front at 4-3.
O'Sullivan could not shake off Li, who showed excellent nerve to force a deciding frame.
It was the third match in a row in which O’Sullivan was taken to a deciding frame. A break of 90 was good enough to beat Liang Wenbo, and 66 saw off Jamie Jones. On this occasion, it was a break of 56 to get over the line.
Li had a chance to beat O’Sullivan in the semi-finals last year, but on this occasion he did not get an opportunity in the decider - as the Rocket booked his place in an 85th ranking semi-final.
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