Barry Hawkins stuck limpet-like to Judd Trump before putting his nose in front when it mattered in a final-frame shootout to book his place in the final of the Masters.
Hawkins has proved a tough opponent for Trump down the years, and it proved to be the case once again as his win made their career head to head in tournaments six apiece.
Trump was once again a shade below his best, and it allowed Hawkins to keep in the hunt before asserting in a final-frame decider.
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After a huge fluke with his opening shot of the match, the first frame appeared plain sailing for Trump as he got in the balls and looked good. But he ran out of position on 46 to allow a Hawkins counter. The frame came down to a safety battle on the colours. Trump bossed the exchange for large spells, but left Hawkins a long blue. He stepped to the table having not potted a ball for almost 20 minutes, but knocked it in to pinch the frame.
To lose the opening frame after bossing it could have been a blow to Trump’s confidence but he responded in excellent fashion to secure the second with a break of 86.
An excellent red into left middle at the start of the third suggested Trump’s confidence was growing. He did not kill off the frame at the first visit, but a 63 - which included a couple of pieces of ‘naughty snooker’ put him into the lead.
The fourth frame was a carbon copy of the opener, with both making runs in the 40s, before a safety battle ensued. Once again it was Trump who dominated the exchange, and at times had Hawkins chasing shadows. The Hawk kept finding the escape, and cashed in on a Trump error to knock in a long green and tough brown with the rest to draw level at the interval.
While Hawkins has proved a good match for Trump, what the latter has in his armoury is the X-Factor ability to knock in stunning pots. Tight on the baulk cushion at the start of the fifth frame, he rolled in a stunning red to the bottom left. After getting position on the black, it was a surprise to see him make only 36 - which has been his season in a microcosm: flashes of rather than sustained brilliance.
Trump may have a sprinkling of stardust, but Hawkins has gritty determination and a reply of 60 brought him firmly back into the frame and he pinched a tight one for the third time in the match when Trump missed a tough green.
A broken pocket briefly halted play, but it did not knock Hawkins off his stride as he rolled in his second century of the week to move 4-2 ahead. It was a brilliant break, but only came about after he had fouled and Trump invited him to play again. With no apparent safety on offer, he drained a red and cleared with a 124.
Trump was under the pump after losing three frames on the spin, but stopped the rot by taking the seventh to cut the deficit to one. After passing up a chance in the seventh, Hawkins did the same in the eighth - and a break of 65 enabled Trump to draw level.
Trump’s two-frame burst put the pressure back on Hawkins and he made a safety error, which prompted a swipe of the table in frustration. It’s rare for the Hawkins to show emotion, but he was left to stew in his chair as the 2019 Masters champion stroked in a 54 to move back in front.
Hawkins played front-foot snooker all night, and with his back to the wall he did not shirk the challenge. A miss from Trump opened the door, and a run of 46 earned him a handy lead. He got in again after a poor Trump safety to close out the frame and set up a decider for the second time in the day, after Neil Robertson had beaten Mark Selby in the afternoon.
A safety battle kicked off the decider, with Trump forced into taking a tough pot after being denied any route back to baulk. It missed, which presented Hawkins with a chance.
He did not take the first, but an excellent safety drew a mistake from Trump - who went for a tough red only to see it wobble in the jaws.
The pressure was immense but the reds were split nicely and Hawkins retained excellent cue-ball control - and a break of 58 put him firmly in the driving seat. Trump went for broke on a tough red into left middle, but it did not drop and Hawkins picked off red and a colour to book his place in the final - and he celebrated wildly with the crowd in a huge release of emotion.
Both Robertson and Hawkins went through the wringer, and it could be a case of who recovers best for Sunday.
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