Ronnie O’Sullivan booked his place in his first final of the season when beating Stuart Bingham 6-2 in the semi-finals of the World Grand Prix.
The 2020 world champion reached five finals last season, only to lose them all, and has come up short so far this term.
Semi-final appearances at the English Open and Scottish Open, and a run to the quarter finals of the UK Championship, suggested his form was bubbling under.
'It is about balancing and doing what works for you' - Robertson
O’Sullivan said pre-game that he no longer cares about titles, but that would appear to be a smokescreen given the way he fought extremely hard to see off a below-par Bingham and set up a meeting with Neil Robertson in Coventry on Sunday.
The opening frame saw O’Sullivan knock in a couple of excellent long reds to suggest his cue action was in sync. But he failed to convert the pots into telling contributions, and Bingham was able to compile enough points to get himself in front.
Bingham got in first in the second, but ran out of position and missed a red down the left rail. O’Sullivan stepped in and showed his sharpness with a break of 62. It did not seal the frame, but Bingham conceded a short while later as he chased snookers in vain.
The third frame was a tale of errors, with Bingham’s the most alarming with a couple of poor efforts at reds. O’Sullivan stepped in with 51, but it did not get him over the line and Bingham was presented with an opportunity to counter. However, he missed the final red when perhaps focusing too much on the cannon and it gifted the frame to the world number three.
The fourth was another drawn-out affair, as Bingham chased the frame after a break of 56 from O'Sullivan. He had chances to take it, especially after O’Sullivan elected not to put Bingham back in after a miss had been called following a foul, but missed makeable balls and once again went in search of snookers like a player who had a losing record of 17-3 against his opponent.
O’Sullivan has improved as his matches have progressed this week, and he resumed after the interval against Bingham with a 77 - the highest of the match - to extend his advantage to three frames.
Bingham looked all at sea, and a poor safety let O'Sullivan in with a break of 49. He did not close out the frame, uncharacteristically leaving a red in the jaws of the bottom right. But Bingham came to the table like a beaten man and missed a red to the middle to allow O'Sullivan to move within one frame of victory.
Having looked completely out of tune with his game, Bingham came to the table in the seventh and produced his most fluent snooker of the contest, as a break of 78 cut the gap to three.
Bingham had a chance to keep the match alive in the eighty, but missed a red into the green pocket by a distance. O’Sullivan was not handed an easy starter, but he cued it superbly into the heart of the bottom right, and dropped perfectly on the black.
He split the pack nicely and went through the gears with a break of 60. As in previous frames it was not a one-visit kill, and it turned into a battle on the colours. Bingham looked like pulling off the unlikeliest of steals after O'Sullivan inexplicably chose not to put his opponent back in when he was snookered behind the brown. Bingham potted brown, blue and pink and dropped straight on the black for the steal, but he wiggled it in the jaws and O'Sullivan stepped up to sink it and book his place in the final.
O'Sullivan's produced a mixed bag, which has been the case all week, and he will need to up his game as Robertson will be a severe test in the final.
- - -
Stream the Masters and other top snooker live and on-demand on discovery+. You can also watch all the action live on eurosport.co.uk.
Jimmy White vs Judd Trump's Eurosport Masters shot of the championship pot
'It is a tough sport, mentally it is tough' - O'Sullivan says Selby has a choice to make