RONNIE O’Sullivan was dumped out of the Wyldecrest Parks PTC Finals last night by practice partner Yu Delu – a shock exit that blows the tournament wide open.
The Rocket, who goes for a sixth world title next month at the Crucible, was the hot favourite to lift the trophy on Saturday night at Preston’s Guildhall.
But O’Sullivan, 38, saw his Sheffield preparations hit as China’s world No48 Delu came out on top 4-3 in a thriller.
Reigning world champion O’Sullivan made a tournament-high break of 140 to go 3-2 up – but Delu, 26, held his nerve to pull off the win of his life.
And it was a sweet moment for a player used to picking balls potted by O’Sullivan of the pockets in Romford, as he reached a first ranking quarter-final.
O’Sullivan, also tipped to win the World Championships, has swept most before him this season – winning the Champion of Champions, Masters and Welsh Open titles.
But Delu was never overawed by his more illustrious opponent - and went toe to toe with O’Sullivan from the start to secure a deserved victory.
O’Sullivan said: “It is disappointing to lose, I didn’t get in to the game early enough – but a little beating every now and then can do you good.
“It just shows, if you don’t play to your best you can get punished and he deserved his win. I struggled a bit, and had a chance in the decider. I missed that red in the middle by miles.
“It doesn’t leave me too short of matchplay, I won the Masters and the Welsh, and like I say a defeat can help. It will make me knuckle down and get some hard practice in for Sheffield.”
Yu said: “Beating Ronnie has to be the best win of my life. Up until today it was beating Ding Junhui, who is a hero back home in China.
“But to beat the world champion, who I have so much respect for, and to play well makes it a special occasion.
“I tried to treat it as a practice game, just like when we are back in Romford at the Academy, and it worked.”
Yu will take on last year’s world finalist Barry Hawkins in Friday’s quarter-final, after the 34-year-old from Kent won a titanic match against Ryan Day.
The pair did not take to the table until almost 10.30pm after the contest between Gerrard Greene and Anthony Hamilton also went the distance.
And Hawkins emerged victorious from an incident-packed match that saw Day foul the black when poised to go 3-2 up – losing that frame.
In the decider world No5 Hawkins held his nerve and cleared from brown to black to clinch a hard-earned win.
Photographs by Monique Limbos