It’s not quite accurate to say that Ronnie O’Sullivan v Judd Trump is the Coral UK Championship final everyone wants in York this weekend. Stuart Bingham and Stephen Maguire don’t want it. Neither do their supporters. But a repeat of the brilliant Champion of Champions finale is on the cards for Sunday.
O’Sullivan toughed it out with Anthony McGill. Trump swept aside Mark Davis. Bingham battled back against Graeme Dott. Maguire hung in against Marco Fu.
O’Sullivan was, at long last, put under some pressure with a mature performance from McGill but was ultimately too strong with experience of the big occasion obviously in his favour. He competed diligently with the same cool focus he has held with only the odd exception since his playing comeback at the 2013 World Championship.
He lost 6-4 to Bingham in the quarter-finals at York last year. In the last three and a bit years Bingham has won seven titles: one in Australia, five in China and one (the Premier League) in the UK.
He is now much more at home on the big stages and at the business end of tournaments. This is his second successive UK semi-final, though it looked unlikely when he fell 4-1 down to Graeme Dott.
Nicely in the balls for 5-1, Dott suffered a kick and the match turned round. Dott was unlucky again in the decider, going in-off and leaving a plant, which let Bingham in for a match winning break.
O’Sullivan has a very good record against Bingham but will not take him lightly. For Bingham’s part, he needs to cut out some unforced errors and score heavily when he gets chances to prevent the Rocket advancing to the final.
Trump is now cueing with more confidence than at any time since he won the UK Championship three years ago. He played some delightful shots in dispatching Davis, who missed the last black clearing up for 5-2.
Maguire struggled to see off Fu. Having played great stuff to lead 4-1 it all became a bit nervy, a bit edgy and the standard dropped.
But he got the win and would be particularly happy to do so without the need for a deciding frame finish, with all the tension that brings.
After he lost to Trump in the first round of the Champion of Champions last month Maguire was down in the dumps, even muttering about retirement. Since then he’s been a semi-finalist in Mulheim and is now in the last four of the second biggest ranking event in snooker.
This year the semis are best of eleven, rather than best of 17. World Snooker are yet to give a reason why.
Traditionalists would feel that, for this tournament, it is a shame, but these two matches still have the potential to be high quality affairs.
O’Sullivan and Trump will be favourite to advance to a final with much to savour but are by no means certainties to do so.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.