We’re down to the semi-finals of the Dafabet World Championship, with just four players left at the Crucible on Sheffield chasing down the £300,000 first prize.
For the first time since 1999 we have four of the top five seeds contesting the semis in what promises to be a fascinating climax to the game’s premier event.
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN v BARRY HAWKINS
(Thursday 1pm, Friday 10am and 7pm and Saturday 2.30pm)
O’Sullivan isn’t at his very best but he is still causing opponents to crumble, as we saw in the quarter-finals when Shaun Murphy capitulated 13-3 with a session to spare.
O’Sullivan began this match poorly but found some form at the end of the first session and punished the Murphy errors in the second to earn himself a night off on Wednesday.
In last year’s final, he did have to produce his best to beat Hawkins, who pushed him hard on the first day. O’Sullivan, as so often before, responded, and compiled six century breaks in the match to win 18-12.
Hawkins very nearly went out at the quarter-final stage when his 11-5 lead was overturned by a determined Dominic Dale, who came close to pulling off one of the best comebacks in World Championship history when he fought back to lead 12-11.
We learned a lot about Hawkins’s temperament on the big stage by the two excellent frames he put together to win the match 13-12, although these sorts of encounters aren’t good for the nerves.
What chance does Hawkins have of beating O’Sullivan? It’s obvious, but he will have to take his chances, and over four sessions the likelihood of O’Sullivan getting a spurt on and racking up a run of frames is high. So Hawkins may have to play even better than he did in last season’s world final to stand a chance of causing an upset.
Graeme Dott did so in the 2006 semi-finals, although O’Sullivan is mentally stronger at this World Championship than he was at that one.
So O’Sullivan has to be favourite to reach a sixth final at the Crucible. A word of warning, though: he is only half way through the slog that is the World Championship, having won 36 frames and needing to win 35 more to become champion. There is still much that can go wrong.
PREDICTION: O’Sullivan 17-11
NEIL ROBERTSON v MARK SELBY
(Thursday 7pm, Friday 2.30pm and Saturday 10am and 7pm)
This is likely to be a snooker war between two take-no-prisoners combatants renowned for effort, commitment and determination.
Robertson produced a masterclass in matchplay snooker to recover from 9-6 down and beat Judd Trump 13-11 in the quarter-finals. He has also now got the century of centuries milestone done and dusted but says he didn’t enjoy the way he played early on and will try and boss the semi-final in a different way, by going on the attack.
“Walking through mud” was how Robertson described his first session performance against Trump. In the end he got the job done but it was a bruising encounter.
Selby pulled away effectively in the second session against Alan McManus, winning eight of the nine frames played. He was largely written off before this tournament but is there yet again at the business end of a major event, looking focused and enjoying his snooker after a couple of frustrating World Championships.
It will be interesting to see how Selby approaches this one. Robertson’s safety game is up to his and they can both score heavily. They each have strong temperaments at this level.
These two love a battle and they are likely to have one. The danger is that whoever prevails will exhaust themselves for the final.
PREDICTION: Robertson 17-15
Photographs by Monique Limbos.