Wow what a final session we have seen tonight as Mark Selby and Ali Carter have booked their places in the semi-finals of this year’s tournament with victories over Ronnie O’Sullivan and Shaun Murphy respectively…
At 9-5 down Mark Selby was in deep trouble against the world number one and tournament favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan but tonight he completed a victory that obviously meant a lot to him to move into the semi-finals at the Crucible for the second time in his career.
Resuming at 9-7 down having taken the final two this afternoon to keep himself within touching distance, Mark started the evening session well by taking the opening frame but as the play remained scrappy, would have been disappointed not to have gone into the interval level, instead trailing 11-9.
Importantly however, Mark then came out firing after the interval with a century break before taking a second consecutive frame to draw level at 11-11, the first time he had been level since 4-4.
At this stage, and in truth even beforehand, Ronnie looked to be struggling mentally and although Mark missed two crucial balls during frame 23, O’Sullivan surprisingly could not take advantage, letting him off the hook as Selby celebrated with a clenched fist.
The world number one looked to be increasingly disinterested but as is always the case with Ronnie, you can never rule him out and he began the next frame by drilling in a superb red from distance and I just wondered whether it would be a case of him pulling out his best form when he needed it once again to get him through another match. While the pots kept going in however, eventually his poor position was to snowball until eventually he missed while stretching and allowed Mark back into the frame. Selby could not win the frame in one visit but with some excellent tactical play he got himself back into it and with an excellent pot on the brown drew the handshake from an opponent who simply looked like he wanted to be out of the arena.
It has been a strange tournament, indeed even a strange season for Ronnie who while he has not played terribly, just hasn’t looked to be in a good frame of mind when in the arena. For much of the week when I have seen him the focus has not been there and his behaviour this afternoon towards referee Leo Scullion in which he questioned the decision to call a touching ball was almost endemic of that.
Whatever the reasons are though, I do think that Ronnie has now lost too many close matches to Selby from dominant positions for it to be coincidental, namely the 2008 Welsh Open final, this season’s Masters final and now today. Out in the arena at least there does appear to be a little needle between the two players and perhaps Mark has got himself into Ronnie’s head to an extent. It’s an interesting one.
Speaking of Mark I am pleased for him and while he did not produce his best snooker during the match, felt that he was a deserving winner. Whether or not he is the favourite for the tournament now as some bookmakers are predicting I am not so sure but it will be fascinating to see how he gets on against Graeme Dott over the next three days.
The second semi-final meanwhile was just as exciting as Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter matched each other all the way to a 25th and final frame. The first chance fell to Murphy who having made a number of excellent pots early in the break managed to get himself into perfect position only to miss a slightly awkward pink when stretching to let Ali back in. Though Carter could not clear in one visit, he got himself to within five points before a poor safety from Shaun gave him a chance for frame and match.
The following few moments however were full of drama as having played a poor positional shot to get on the final yellow, Ali missed it and leaving it over the pocket for Shaun looked to have lost the match. Crucially however he just managed to cover enough of it with the green to force Shaun to put a touch of swerve on it and dramatically although the ball wobbled in the jaws, it would not drop and Ali had another chance that he would not surrender.
Having struggled earlier this season Ali is now again showing the form that took him to the final here in 2008 and will be a tough match for Neil Robertson in the next round. Interestingly the result also means that should Ali defeat Robertson, he will move up to number two in the world rankings ahead of Ronnie O’Sullivan! Neil though will need to win the event to leapfrog the Rocket.
For Murphy it was a tough way to lose but I am sure that he will be back in the future. Surely too good a player to win this title just once…
So on to the semis and what will happen next? I may have been fortunate enough to have correctly predicted three of the four semi-finalists prior to the start of the tournament (Peter Ebdon letting me down!), but right now I would find it hard to call either of the two matches with any confidence.
Robertson v Selby would be my final of choice however, though I would not be unhappy to see any of the four players lift the trophy in truth.