Crucible Diary 2012: Day Sixteen – The Final

And then there were two. After a fortnight which has a seen a 147, a retirement, controversial comments and some great action on the baize, the final battle for the 2012 World Championship will be contested between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ali Carter, a repeat of the 2008 showpiece. Click below for my thoughts ahead of the match, as well as on the match itself as the action unfolds…

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Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. With a 15-1 head to head advantage, a career which to date has seen him take 23 ranking event titles to Ali’s two and having already defeated three world champions and a double world finalist to reach this stage, Ronnie O’Sullivan is a heavy favourite to win this title. I have yet to see anyone back Ali to turn the tables and few expect the Captain to improve significantly upon the scoreline in 2008 when the pair last met at this stage of the competition, when O’Sullivan ran out an 18-8 winner.

Is this fair? Arguably, Ronnie has in spells looked back to his dazzling best this week, six-frame bursts against all of his opponents to date helping him establish commanding leads which he has rarely looked like relinquishing. Perhaps more importantly, Ronnie has looked focused and disciplined around the table, just like last year in fact, the only difference this time being that his game is in equally as good shape as his temperament. His long potting, as it has done throughout the season, has been as consistent as it has been for many a year and the fact that yesterday he came to the table for potting practice with the frame long since lost, shows that he is up for the fight this week.

Why should it be any different this time?

While Ronnie has looked focused, so too has Ali who with nothing to lose coming into the tournament on the back of a difficult season, has given it everything this week and pulled off shock wins against Judd Trump and Stephen Maguire amongst others to make it this far.

With Peter Ebdon in his corner (a fact that the media have really jumped upon), Ali has not only made big breaks and potted pressure balls, but he has played top matchplay snooker when required, refusing to take on anything carrying undue risk and at times frustrating his opponents.

Also in Ali’s favour is that as he explained after his semi-final win, compared to 2008, he comes into the final two days fresh and knows exactly what to expect.

We shall see. While I think that Ali will definitely get closer than in 2008, ultimately that head to head record is something that I cannot get away from when it comes to picking a winner. Can Ali?

Afternoon Session

All-square at the first mid-session interval, Ronnie O’Sullivan taking the first two frames with breaks of 57 and 117, before Ali hit back with a break of 83 in the third, before taking a protracted frame before the interval.

Even at this early stage, credit has to be given to Carter as facing an opponent who did not miss a ball in the first frame (literally, his pot success was 100%), he did not show any signs of weakness and kept his composure to level up the match.

As the players sample their respective cups of tea, carrot juice or whatever else they might fancy at the interval, you could do worse than watching this feature prepared by the BBC recently, marking the great rivalry of the 1990’s between Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White, with both men sharing their memories of their Crucible encounters.

As the next two frames were shared, what followed was something of a masterclass from O’Sullivan, a simply ridiculous clearance of 92, followed by a total clearance of 141 to take a 5-3 lead into this evening’s session.

Out and about between sessions I was able to bump into the man behind the Almanac, Chris Downer, who informed me that the 141 break made by Ronnie O’Sullivan this afternoon is in fact the highest break ever made in a World Championship final, beating his own 139 compiled in the 2001 final against John Higgins.

Looking at the end of session statistics, Ronnie’s pot success of 95% against Ali’s 89% demonstrates that the scoreline is a fair one, though it must be said that from 3-3 there wasn’t really a lot more that Ali could have done in the last two frames, when Ronnie really turned on the style.

It is probably fair to say that Ali needs to keep the scoreline at no worse than 10-7 overnight, though if he could edge this evening’s second session and close to 9-8, or better, then it will leave things very interesting going into tomorrow.

Evening Session

The action resumed at 7pm before a good crowd tonight and it was Ali who got off to an ideal start, taking the opening frame with breaks of 56 and 28 to close to 5-4.

Back though came O’Sullivan, frame 11 with a well-taken 68 to pull three clear in the match for the first time at 7-4 and set up arguably the most important frame of the match so far ahead of the mid-session interval, Carter facing a potential four frame deficit had he lost it.

Both had chances, O’Sullivan unfortunate to screw the cue ball in-off into the left-centre pocket at one stage following a good pot on the red and it was Carter who was able to snatch the frame in order to keep himself withing striking distance at 7-5…

Earlier on this evening there was a bit of chatter concerning the documentary aired on BBC2 tonight looking at Barry Hearn, though from here I was not in a position to watch it. What was it like?

Back on the baize though, at the time of writing O’Sullivan holds a 10-6 lead having taken three of the four frames following the mid-session interval. Ali has had chances in those that he has not taken, notably missing at least three blacks off the spot and for me just not being quite clinical enough against an opponent not missing an awful lot out there. Once again this season, Ronnie’s long game has been exceptional during this match, well over 70% the last time that the statistic was shown.