Ronnie O’Sullivan survived a spirited fightback from Mark Williams in a Tour Championship classic to reach the semi-finals in Wales.
Williams, who trailed 5-3 at the interval, found something in reserve as he battled back to push the rocket to a late-night decider.
However, it wasn’t as O’Sullivan’s class ultimately showed through in a nervy final frame which he won 65-44.
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The two all-time greats, and heavyweights of the sport, stepped into the Venue Cymru in Llandudno with Williams very much hoping to make home advantage count to book a place in the semi-finals.
With that in mind, the Welshman made the perfect start, capitalising on errors from O’Sullivan to take a tense first frame, which lasted half an hour.
Last year’s beaten finalist continued to show some early nerves in the second, and despite collecting some quick points, a missed black – which rattled the jaws of the pocked – gave Williams the chance to build again. However, he fluffed his chance and O’Sullivan managed to scrape level in the match.
O’Sullivan seemed to need a confidence boost, and a fabulous long pot of a red gave him just that as he edged into the lead.
What was to come next put any memories of a shaky start into the distant past, with O’Sullivan producing a dazzling exhibition of ball striking to move 3-1 up at the interval with a break of 131 – the highest of the tournament so far.
Williams bounced back, with his rival unable to pot in the fifth frame, tightening the scores to 3-2, before O’Sullivan struck his second century of the match in a sublime break of 128 to give himself some breathing space once more.
The seventh frame proved quite breathless, with the home crowd fearing the worst as O’Sullivan raced into a 50 point lead, with Williams handing over 16 of those points in fouls. A beautifully executed red gave the Welsh player the chance to counter attack, before a quite majestic clearance of 92 brought Williams to within one of O’Sullivan with one frame remaining before the end of the first session.
O’Sullivan’s two frame lead was reestablished once more just before the break, as he recovered from some poor positioning with his early shots to secure a break of 89 and take a 5-3 lead into the evening session.
The yo-yo nature of the tie continued after the break with Williams taking advantage of an early O’Sullivan error to go on a run of 103 to move within a frame.
If there’s one thing we have learnt over the years watching Ronnie, it is that any slight hint of being up against it only spurs him on to find another level, and in the tenth frame he did just that. He found some of the best angles we have seen him cue in a while as he went on a run of 100 to get the two-frame lead once more.
The next part of the match probably needs little explanation, with a clear pattern forming. Did Williams fight like a warrior to close the gap to 6-5? Of course he did. Did O’Sullivan come steaming back with elegance around the table to make a break of 75 and widen the gap once more? Of course he did.
Swiftly turning into a Tour Championship classic, the class on show along with the tenacity of both players was setting up a fine race for the finish line.
At 7-5 down, Williams knew any mistakes would see O’Sullivan seize the opportunity and sail off into the sunset, so making things difficult for himself with poor positioning was definitely not in the game plan. However, as seen so often already in the clash, Williams found a way out of tricky situations to take the frame, and once again reel his opponent to within one.
Williams had not won two straight frames all day, until the fourteenth where a double kiss from O’Sullivan gave Williams the chance to close out and he accepted the opportunity to draw the match level.
As the Welshman sought to make his momentum count, but as he took the table to split the pack, he saw the pink drop into the pocket, allowing O’Sullivan to step up and score another ton to regain the lead at 8-7 – only for Williams to fight straight back with incredible calmness and take the match to a best-of-three shootout.
Pressure. What pressure? Neil Robertson was awaiting the winner and the vast experience of both players’ meant they knew exactly how one miscue could give their opponent the edge they needed to reach ten frames. However, there was to be no tentative play from O’Sullivan as he smashed out a quite magnificent 127 to move to within a frame of victory.
Quite fittingly, and to reflect the way the match played out, Williams held his nerve to fight back yet again to level up and take the game to a deciding frame.
Neither man was prepared to surrender yet equally neither could see the other off and another tight battle ensued.
Evertually, O’Sullivan produced some sensational potting after Williams uncharacteristically missed long red and the match was his.
Neil Roberston awaits in the semis.
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