Ronnie O’Sullivan’s bid to win a first title in over a year gathered pace as he scored an impressive 6-3 win over Mark Selby to reach the semi-finals of the Dafabet Masters.
O’Sullivan’s long game was particularly effective, registering 83 percent long pot success, as he handled the challenge of an opponent who has proved one of his most difficult in recent years. The last time they met was the 2014 World Championship final when Selby won 18-14.
This time Chigwell’s 40-year-old O’Sullivan looked in charge from the start of a high quality tussle which featured 11 breaks over 50 in the nine frames. The Rocket goes through to face John Higgins or World Champion Stuart Bingham in another mouth-watering clash on Saturday at 7pm. Tickets for that match at Alexandra Palace are still available – for details click here.
O’Sullivan’s last tournament win was the 2014 UK Championship, and he took several months off at the start of the current season before returning to competitive action in mid-December. He has quickly regained his trademark fluency and break-building brilliance, and needs to win just two more matches to capture his sixth Masters title, which would equal the record held by Stephen Hendry.
His previous three Masters matches with Selby had all been finals – with O’Sullivan claiming victory in 2009 and 2014 while Selby won their 2010 meeting.
World number six O’Sullivan made a break of 63 in the opening frame today and clinched it after Selby’s chance to steal ended with a missed pink. World number one Selby hit back with a fine 56 clearance in the second frame but crowd favourite O’Sullivan then pulled away as runs of 69, 54 and 58 made it 3-1 at the interval.
Leicester’s Selby made a 61 in winning frame five then O’Sullivan made a rapid 100 in the next for 4-2. A scrappy seventh frame was settled by O’Sullivan’s thumping long pot on the penultimate red to initiate a 31 clearance.
Selby won the next with a 68 and looked set to make it 5-4 until he ran out of position on 70 in the ninth. And O’Sullivan finished the match in style with an excellent 73 clearance which included several difficult pots.
“I wasn’t feeling technically great out there but I still had to go for my shots and try to make things happen,” said O’Sullivan. “I wanted to keep attacking and keep my opponent on the back foot. My long game was really good and I stayed patient.
“Mark is the only player who can win tournaments when he’s not at his best because tactically he is unbelievable and he’s the hardest match player on the circuit. I watched all of his matches during the UK Championship and I realised how difficult he is to play for every opponent – he’s like granite. I realised he doesn’t only play like that against me. I admire his tenacity and his will to win, I’ve got massive respect for him. We’ve had a bit of grudge and needle over the years and I have probably taken it personally, but not any more because I know he’s a great player.”
Selby said: “I didn’t feel I played that badly. I missed a few chances early on. Ronnie’s long game was very good and he made a great clearance in the last frame, otherwise it would have been 5-4 and then it’s game on. He’s definitely playing well enough to win the tournament.
“I find it difficult to play with a tie on because the knot seems to get in the way and I was pulling it one way and the other. It was in my head for the first frame and a half. Every time I got down to a shot I was thinking about whether it was comfortable. From an image point of view I think the ties look a lot better, but the knot is a lot bigger than a dickie bow and it seems to press down on my cue.”
Selby was also asked about a fan in the crowd shouting out, and he replied: “There was a guy just behind the back of my seat. I went to play a shot and he picked his phone up and said ‘hello’, just as I was on my backswing. You are going to get people saying things at this event and it’s the same for every player, but when it’s on your backswing it’s not too good.”