AS ITV4 are showing Europa League football tonight it’s a rest day at the Dafabet Champion of Champions in Coventry, where three players have so far advanced to the semi-finals.
Ronnie O’Sullivan did so last night with a 6-0 demolition job on a well below par Marco Fu. A sizeable crowd were treated not so much to a match as an exhibition as O’Sullivan ruthlessly punished the hapless Fu in 84 minutes.
O’Sullivan, when put under pressure, can be beaten and often is. However, when he isn’t put under pressure he frequently soars into levels most players can only dream of. When it comes to knowing the shots, seeing the shots and then executing the shots, all in the blink of an eye, there is no one better.
That said, Stuart Bingham did pressure him in their first round match yesterday, making a century to lead 2-1. O’Sullivan’s response was emphatic: breaks of 83, 115 and 103. He seems bang up for this tournament, which he won on its first staging last year.
It doesn’t have the atmosphere of the Masters but the Champion of Champions does have a feel of prestige to it: one table, top players and big money.
O’Sullivan now faces Ding Junhui in the last four. The Chinese no.1 came through an absorbing encounter with Barry Hawkins on Monday night, winning 6-5.
Aside from victory in an Asian Tour event, Ding’s season is yet to get going, unlike last season where by this point he had already won two ranking titles. But there’s still plenty of time for trophies if he can play himself into his best form.
The other semi-finalist is Judd Trump, who was very impressive in beating both Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby on Tuesday.
Trump is scoring really heavily this season, with 27 centuries to his name already. It’s easy to forget he is still a young man. At 25, he possesses a fine attacking style but also an increasingly smart tactical game.
When he broke through as a top player three years ago it meant expectations – including his own – were raised. More titles have followed but he came to Coventry 11th in the world rankings after a 2013/14 campaign which much have been disappointing.
Trump says he has been working hard in the club and it showed in the way he played earlier this week.
So three great players are already into Saturday’s semis and they will be joined by one more on Friday. Ricky Walden and Mark Allen, finalists in last weekend’s International Championship, clash cues again while Neil Robertson, whose own season has stuttered a little after a fine start, faces Ali Carter.
There will be huge goodwill towards Carter, who the whole snooker world is delighted to see back playing again. Robertson will have to be professional and shut all of this out, a little like he did when playing his good friend Joe Perry in the Wuxi Classic final last June.
Carter will doubtless just be happy to be back playing on TV again. He didn’t win a big tournament to qualify for the event but, in some ways, he’s the biggest winner in the field.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.