Barry Hawkins beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 13-12 in a tremendous match to reach the quarter-finals of the Betfred World Championship.
In the best match of this year’s Championship so far, Hawkins fended off a late rally from O’Sullivan, taking a tense deciding frame after being hauled back from 12-9 to 12-12.
World number 11 Hawkins had not beaten O’Sullivan for 14 years, losing their last nine meetings including the 2013 world final and this season’s Masters final. But 36-year-old Hawkins rose to the occasion to score perhaps the best win of his career so far, knocking out pre-tournament favourite O’Sullivan on snooker’s biggest stage.
Hawkins, who is the only player to reach the semi-finals in Sheffield in each of the last three years, now has a chance to extend that run to four years when he takes on Marco Fu in the last eight, over 25 frames on Tuesday and Wednesday. His outstanding all round game and calmness under pressure could make him a real contender for the £330,000 top prize.
A match of exceptional quality saw five-time champion O’Sullivan make four centuries and eight more breaks over 50 – scoring 1409 points to his opponent’s 1135 – but he couldn’t shake off a determined Hawkins.
World number six O’Sullivan trailed 9-7 going into the final session and won the first frame tonight with a break of 93. He had chances in the next but couldn’t seal the frame and Hawkins snatched it by clearing from green to black. A run of 70 gave O’Sullivan the next but Hawkins hit back again by taking frame 20 with a break of 54 to lead 11-9 at the interval.
Left-hander Hawkins extended his advantage with a run of 94, then O’Sullivan reeled off two frames within 16 minutes with 124 and 88. In the second of those breaks he potted 11 reds with blacks, but his chance of a 147 ended when he missed the 12th red to a centre pocket. O’Sullivan went on to win frame 24 with a run of 63 to make it 12-12.
The deciding frame started with a long safety battle, then Hawkins had the first scoring opportunity and made 56 before running out of position. O’Sullivan then had an chance to counter but made just 14 before going in-off when potting a red. Hawkins added 10 points to secure a famous victory.
“It was never in doubt was it!” joked two-time ranking event winner Hawkins. “I’m lost for words to be honest. It’s nice to finally beat him after 14 years, especially at this place over three sessions. He played really well, but I’m pleased with how I held myself together in the end, that was the most pressure I’ve ever been under.
“I thought it wasn’t going to be my day when he came back to 12-12. But the last frame suited me, it settled me down, having a safety exchange. I stayed patient and in the end I made a decent break.
“He makes it looks so effortless – there’s me twitching about and him just flowing. I didn’t care how I won that last frame as long as I won it.
“I definitely had a different mindset compared to the Masters final (which he lost 10-1) – I just crumbled then. I felt confident, I focused a lot better and I’m absolutely delighted to get another victory over him. It might be another 14 years until I beat him again.
Golfer Danny Willett, the Masters champion, was introduced to the crowd before the session started
“Mark Selby and John Higgins have got to be considered the favourites, but the rest of us are in with a chance. I’ve got another really tough game against Marco Fu, if he gets going he can score as well as anybody.”
O’Sullivan said: “Barry deserved his victory, he’s a top class player, but obviously I’m disappointed to have not won.
“The decider wasn’t my type of frame, if there was a weakness in my game it was definitely on the tactical side. I lost all of the frames where safety was involved. I was like a golfer who birdies 15 holes then gets a triple bogey on the last three.”
O’Sullivan also explained why he declined to speak to media after his first round win over David Gilbert.
“It’s not that I didn’t fancy, I want to apologise to you guys (journalists) because you’ve all been so good to me over the years,” he said. “For various reasons I wasn’t in a fit state to speak, it wasn’t that I was being arrogant.
“I don’t handle the responsibility that I carry very well, I find it difficult being the figure head for the sport. All the attention is on me and there are high expectations from everyone, including myself.
“I want to manage the pressure and stress that I put on myself. The media make out I’ve won this tournament before I even turn up, and that can be difficult in such an intense environment.
“I’ve done well for 25 years, you have moments in your career where you go a bit brittle, but I feel strong now and I’m looking forward to coming back.”