Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. One more round of Pimm's with your pots this summer.

Snooker
Ronnie O'Sullivan: 'Marcus Rashford has run rings around government, they’ve got it badly wrong’
28/10/2020 AT 16:35

Ronnie O'Sullivan's evergreen green baize gallop to his first World Championship final since 2013 and a fascinating duel with world number eight Kyren Wilson that sees him lead 10-7 heading for the final day has been as unsurprising as his ongoing yearning for publicity, but the manner of his methodical madness remains highly debatable. Some will say derogatory, others will argue daring.

It depends whether or not you enjoy a bit of Rocket fuel to distract you from the more serious machinations of life. What should not be in doubt is O'Sullivan's desire, determination or passion to win the delayed 44th staging of the event, held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield since 1977.

Hardened professionals Ali Carter, Neil Robertson and latterly Alan 'Angles' McManus have been telling the public for weeks that O'Sullivan playing without the added strain of a crowd due to the global health pandemic was going to prove massively beneficial to his hopes of carrying off a sixth world title – and all have been proved snooker soothsayers.

The eased pressure valve of playing behind closed doors has given O'Sullivan the chance to express himself without the added strain of prying eyes. Without the low-level fame which snooker celebrity brings. Not that he has wasted the chance to become embroiled in controversy away from the table.

Some of his play remains bewitching, some of his comments are balderdash and piffle, but ultimately he has reached the cusp of nirvana with a complete disregard for conformity. Which is just how he likes it, whether or not it is palatable to his fellow potters.

'If I'm snookered, I'm going to smash them' - Ronnie explains controversial moment

Much of it is done to distract from the strain of his own expectations, visibly demonstrated by his lack of contentment with a classic time-served cue action that has already wrought 12 centuries in this event so far.

His claims suggesting "I'd probably have to lose an arm and a leg to fall outside the top 50" were unnecessary and disrespectful to young players making their way in the world. At the age of 17, would he have liked to hear Steve Davis or seven-times winner Stephen Hendry ridicule the standard of players below them? Coming from someone at the summit of the sport, it was in desperately poor taste.

It also didn't add up given that he was bundled out of the event by James Cahill, an amateur qualifier, in the first round a year ago. It didn't make sense when you witnessed world number 89 Jamie Clarke dismantle Mark Allen's hopes 10-8 in the first round.

'An absolutely ridiculous shot' - Ronnie O'Sullivan smashes cue ball

At this time of mental heath awareness and general depression in society, aspiring players do not need a multi-millionaire with 28 years' experience behind him clubbing their dreams over the head with the butt end of a cue, for no apparent reason other than to court tabloid attention.

Yet with O'Sullivan, you have to take the rough with the smooth, so to speak. He is a product of his surroundings, a kid who enjoyed the luxury of playing on a full-size table in his home and it is a background which has provided him with the ability to perform snooker like no other player alive. Apart from Judd Trump, there is no other player capable of producing such instinctive magic in modern times.

The final three frames of his 17-16 win over Mark Selby were something to behold. Selby did little or nothing wrong, but was forced to watch O'Sullivan produce an act of escapology greater than Derren Brown on the illusionist's 20th anniversary on TV. The Essex man made breaks 138, 71 and 64 in scoring 276 unanswered points to visibly wind the three-times world champion – who had done something similar to O'Sullivan in his 18-14 win in the 2014 final.

Little wonder Selby was left with a bitter taste in his mouth. O'Sullivan should have been a goner after the third session, but Selby led only 13-11 instead of 15-9 at the end of the morning's play and paid a heavy price for allowing his opponent to feed off scraps whenever he faltered in a classic example of rope-a-dope.

With O'Sullivan only two frames adrift, it was never going to be impossible for someone of his class to retrieve the gap when he wins frames as quickly as winning snap at cards. If you court fate in snooker, there is a chance it will haunt you. Selby was rightly dejected because he knew he had self-harmed on the cusp of victory.

Selby accused his opponent of being "disrespectful" when he attempted to hammer his way out of snookers, particularly a shot on the pink late in the 30th frame, but it was incorrect. It may have been crude but O'Sullivan was right about the miss rule and decided to make his point there and then, whatever the outcome.

Mark Selby on Ronnie O'Sullivan: 'I felt it was disrespectful to me and the game'

"With this miss rule now, it’s so harsh, I’ve just tried to hit the pink, but with the miss rule, unless you hit the ball they’re just going to keep calling the miss," said O'Sullivan.

"They’re just going to keep racking up as many points as they can and they know the player’s not trying to miss the ball because there’s no advantage.

"I think, “I could give 40 points away trying to hit this ball” so you may as well try and get out of it, hit it as hard as you can, get a fluke, unless you think you can clip it and you’ve got half a chance of getting it safe.

"I’m not that good at getting out of snookers, I may as well go for the fluke. At least I haven’t given 40 points away and if he makes a 30 break I’m 10 points better off, if you think about it."

O'Sullivan is free to choose whatever shot he prefers. It is an anarchic rule that should be amended ahead of next season. It should have been altered long ago when players keep missing by little margin and are constantly penalised.

The first semi-final between Kettering's Wilson and the cursed Scot Anthony McGill had demonstrated the absurdity of it, as it almost settled the contest without Wilson being forced to pot a ball in his gripping 17-16 win. McGill conceded 35 points after eight honest failures to hit the final red and was left needing a snooker.

Surely there should be a three-shot limit on it before a player is forced to play from where the ball ends up and then get the chance to place the white where he likes? It is a more satisfactory conclusion than constant misses and totting up points when you get lucky. Hopefully it does not unduly interfere with the final in the fraught race to 18.

Wilson overcome with emotion after fluking green to finally settle epic final frame against McGill

"I hate it when people have the chance to take the red on or something behind the black to win the frame, but would rather snooker you and win the frame by you missing. By the time you hit it, they are already safe," said three-times world champion Mark Williams, who lost 13-10 to O'Sullivan in the quarter-finals.

"I think it should be three or four attempts then ball in hand and force somebody to win the frame themselves rather than you keep missing it seven or eight times.

"I've seen some frames where one player is 30 behind, but by the time the other player hits the ball they are 20 in front from one snooker."

In the end, neither O'Sullivan or Wilson got lucky to be in the final. They are both there on merit, and have the ability to provide a memorable final of contrasting styles with around 300 fans allowed to witness it inside the 980-capacity Crucible while adhering to social distancing.

Ray Reardon remains the oldest champion at 45 years, 203 days. O'Sullivan has another opportunity to seize true greatness after a seven-year drought chasing eight more frames for glory.

At the age of 44, there is more than a whiff of Jack Nicklaus at Augusta in 1986 or Roger Federer in Melbourne in 2017 about O'Sullivan's run to this final, but neither of those figures would have berated their sports in the manner in which O'Sullivan belittles snooker.

He has described it as a "Primark" sport, but fails to appreciate that it will struggle to entice sponsors beyond betting companies if the man in the arena, the ultimate event in the sport, decides to constantly bemoan its perceived shortcomings. A £500,000 first prize suggests snooker is not in a bad place.

It also does his own levels of skill a huge disservice because anybody who has studied a full-sized match snooker table knows it is the most demanding of all cue sports with pockets cut tighter than two coats of paint.

O'Sullivan has a vexed love affair with snooker that runs deeper than merely the potting of balls. It has come to represent his very being. Nobody should be left in any doubt about his desire to emerge victorious. This is what he commits all the hours of practice to despite suggestions he is only playing for enjoyment. The man doth protest too much.

That was demonstrated when he thumped his fist hard against the table amid his semi-final joust with Selby. He cares more than you can imagine, but do not expect him to express such sentiment during the 17 days in Sheffield that must feel like an ultra-marathon for his attention span.

If O'Sullivan wins, he will join Steve Davis and Reardon as a six-times winner of the event. If Wilson, the conqueror of Trump in the last eight, triumphs, he becomes the second twentysomething winner of the event for the second successive year, suggesting there is life beyond the man sitting opposite.

It is a fascinating mix of youth and experience, a battle of wills and styles, but it may also be the only year in the history of the tournament where nobody will forget the semi-final losers. And nor should they.

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Selby progresses to last eight, but Murphy hopes ended by Zhou
27/10/2020 AT 22:21
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