The last BetVictor Welsh Open final to be staged at the Newport Centre could well turn into one of the best the tournament has ever seen.
Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui will battle today over 17 frames with £60,000 to the winner. It promises to be a classic.
Ding will match Stephen Hendry’s feat of winning five ranking titles in a single campaign if he is successful (Hendry in fact won five in a row during the 1990/91 season).
Two more centuries yesterday against Joe Perry were further evidence of his heavy scoring but he also won the key frames, potting the crunch balls, and his big match temperament again impressed.
It will have to be fully intact today because O’Sullivan looks to be in the form of his life. Three centuries against Barry Hawkins were proof of the standard he is producing but the highlight was his 65 clearance in the sixth frame, a jaw-dropping exhibition of skill made even more enjoyable by O’Sullivan’s apparently effortless style.
At 38, after a career full of ups and downs, he has found an even keel, largely helped by Dr. Steve Peters. One wonders how many titles O’Sullivan could have won had he been this way 20 years ago, but his story is defined by both his great talent and the unpredictability which has driven him many times to the brink of destruction.
However, the only predictable thing about O’Sullivan right now is that he will play really well. He’s relaxed, he’s focused and he seems to be enjoying snooker again.
This Welsh Open final is huge for Ding. If he can win it then he will go to the Crucible next month – yes, next month! – having beaten the reigning world champion in a final, giving him the last bit of confidence he needs to land the big one.
It would also be proof that there are players capable of taking the game to an in-form O’Sullivan and beating him.
But how do you solve a problem like Ronnie O’Sullivan? Part snooker player, part force of nature, his remarkable career continues apace. A 26th ranking title is just nine frames away.
BBC2 Wales (and red button) 1-4pm; 7-10pm (GMT) (Red button coverage ends at 8.20pm)
British Eurosport2: 1-4.30pm (GMT)
British Eurosport: 7-10pm (GMT)
Eurosport2: 3.45-5.30pm (CET)
Eurosport International: 8-11pm (CET)
Photographs by Monique Limbos.