Ronnie O’Sullivan narrowly avoided one of the biggest shocks in Betway UK Championship history, winning an epic tussle with Sunny Akani 6-5 to reach the quarter-finals.
World number 84 Akani, playing a televised match in a Triple Crown event for the first time, came within four balls of beating his illustrious opponent in the tenth frame when he led 5-4, but was unlucky to knock the blue in when he potted the green. Victory for 22-year-old Akani would have been arguably the most surprising result in this tournament since Marcus Campbell beat Stephen Hendry 9-0 in 1998.
Instead, O’Sullivan took the last two frames and he will continue his quest for a sixth UK title when he faces Martin Gould on Friday at 1pm. World number four O’Sullivan is also aiming for his third ranking title within two months having won the English Open in October and Shanghai Masters in November.
Akani won the Asian under-21 title in 2015
Thailand’s Akani dominated the opening frame then made a break of 74 in the second to lead 2-0. O’Sullivan hit back with 121 and 98 for 2-2 but his opponent was clearly enjoying the occasion and converted excellent long pots on pink and black to win the fifth frame, then added the sixth with runs of 49 and 38 to lead 4-2.
O’Sullivan won a scrappy seventh and made a 61 in the eighth for 4-4, then Akani regained the lead with a superb 128. In frame ten, Akani had the chance to clear the colours, but in potting the green to a baulk corner he tried to nudge the blue away from the cushion, only to send the blue into the opposite corner. O’Sullivan took green, brown and blue for 5-5.
Chigwell’s O’Sullivan led 60-0 in the decider when he missed a red to a centre pocket. Akani clawed back to within 35 points with two reds left, but a loose safety gave O’Sullivan the chance to add 16 points and cross the winning line.
“Sunny deserved to win, I feel like I robbed him,” said 42-year-old O’Sullivan. “It was my lucky day and I’m happy to live to fight another day. I just tried to play a decent snooker match. Sunny is a great character, a beautiful lad and I hope he has a fantastic career.”
Asked about his previous record against Gould, O’Sullivan added: “I don’t care whether he has beaten me before or not, or whether he comes out with three heads tomorrow. If I play like I did tonight I’ll be lucky to get a couple of frames.”
Akani said: “I really enjoyed it, I am happy. In the tenth frame I knocked the blue in – I can’t do anything, it happened. Afterwards Ronnie gave me some advice and told me I played well.”
Meanwhile, Mark Joyce saw off Lyu Haotian 6-4 to set up a match with Ryan Day. It will be the sixth ranking event quarter-final of Joyce’s career – and second at the UK Championship – and he is yet to reach a semi-final.
Breaks of 55, 59, 59, 71 and 62 helped world number 42 Joyce build a 5-2 lead. China’s Lyu fought back to 5-4 but Joyce got the better of frame ten to seal the result.
“I was under pressure at 5-4 but I showed a bit of experience and made sure I didn’t miss anything easy,” said Walsall’s Joyce, who knocked out Neil Robertson in the last 32. “In the past I’ve beaten big seeds and then lost in the next round so I didn’t want that to happen again. I want to kick on and keep winning. I have never been to a semi-final so I’m trying to cross that hurdle.”
Ryan Day v Mark Joyce
Shaun Murphy v Mark King
Stephen Maguire v Joe Perry
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Martin Gould