RONNIE O’Sullivan had one of those nights to use up any supply of superlatives in beating Barry Hawkins 6-2 to set up a BetVictor Welsh open final to savour against Ding Junhui.

The Rocket has for many years been hailed as a genius and the most naturally gifted player ever to pick up a cue – but O’Sullivan did not always show it.

Now 38, the reigning and five-time world champion often insists he is not the same player as the youngster who ripped through so many Blackpool qualifiers as a teenager.

But against Hawkins, his opponent in last year’s world final who on Saturday night as then in Sheffield did little wrong, O’Sullivan was in sublime form.

World No5 Hawkins, 34, opened up with a century to suggest a close contest and could have made that 2-0 – but once O’Sullivan had stolen frame two with a run of 67 the shackles were cast aside.

There were three century breaks, 114, 124, and a 103 – but the highlight of the evening was a clearance from 64-0 down with five reds left in frame six.

In a show of brilliance that will be viewed time and time again on Youtube, O’Sullivan took one blue and overcame reds in horrible positions to conjure a break of 65 to snatch the frame by a point and forge into an unassailable 5-1 lead.

O’Sullivan said: “I scored well, and though he had chances I felt like I would do some damage when I got in. I felt like I wanted to open up a bit tonight and impose myself.

“The break in frame six was all right, the yellow was safe, a red safe, and others tricky. From the first ball I decided I was either going to clear up or lose the frame, I was happy with it.

“I went out there to win and play some good snooker, I decided a few years ago I wanted to play a certain way and be more aggressive and attacking a lot more. It’s not reckless, because I fancy getting them.

“Playing Ding is a fantastic chance to see where I am against the best player on form. He is the in-form player and will equal Stephen Hendry’s record if he wins of five ranking events in a season. People talk about records, but that is one worth having.

“I am trying to leave a legacy, and that is how I used to play when I was younger. I would have won more if I had found this form a few years ago, but better late than never.”


Photographs by Monique Limbos