Crucible Diary 2013: Semi-Finals Blog

Day fifteen at the 2013 World Championship and day three of the semi-final marathon, today we will find out who will contest this year’s Crucible final, as Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ricky Walden look to convert their overnight leads into victories today…

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12:22 – With two sessions still to play in their semi-final, Ricky Walden and Barry Hawkins resumed at 10am with the scoreline poised at 9-7 to Walden.

Somewhat overshadowed by the other blockbuster semi-final, to date the match has not been a classic, Barry struggling in particular as he could not hit a break over 47 during the opening two sessions, though with three centuries under his belt, Ricky has looked strong when in amongst the balls.

Of course the tension out there is understandable, this is the biggest match of both player’s careers so far and Barry in particular looks like he is feeling. It is a shame then that so many seem determined to run this match down, as although it is not the semi-final that any of us were expecting, the standard has been no worse than that in the other half of the draw.

Turning to this morning, Walden was able to take the opening two frames of the day to extend his lead to 11-7, Hawkins having made a match high break of 62 in one, only to suffer an unexpected bounce off a cushion, allowing Walden in to clear with 63.

The issue of bounces and a rumoured change to the balls recently is one that has attracted a lot of discussion of late and it is difficult to know exactly what the current position is. Several players have said on Twitter over the last few days that the balls have definitely changed, but I checked with World Snooker here at the venue a couple of days ago and was informed that the balls have not been changed for two years and that even then the balls remained the same weight and manufacturer as before.

Regardless, Hawkins responded well, his first two century breaks helping him close to 12-8 at the interval, before he then added the next to trail 12-9 at the time of writing. If Barry can add two of the next three to be no worse than 13-11 behind heading into this evening, then we could see some Crucible drama as the match comes to a close.

12:38 – Meanwhile this afternoon, we will also see the climax to the first semi-final between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump, with Ronnie taking a 14-10 lead into their fourth and final session.

It has been a strange match so far, yesterday seeing O’Sullivan warned by referee Michaela Tabb for an alleged lewd gesture with his cue, while Trump was distracted by strange noises coming from the crowd, apparently in a deliberate attempt to put him off his shots. Indeed while the atmosphere was electric, at times the etiquette fell below the level that you would expect from a UK-based snooker crowd.

Regardless however, it was Ronnie who was able to win both of the day’s two sessions 5-3 to ease away from Judd and leave himself well-placed to progress to a fifth world final. For me Ronnie has not played particularly well during the match (he is yet to make a century), but crucially he has remained clinical when in amongst the balls and his positional play far superior to that of his opponent.

Judd is not out of it, but he has not taken advantage of the opportunities that have come his way so far and to find himself four frames down, will be hard to come back from. He has said on Twitter however that he still fancies the job, but it would surely be the best win of his career if he was able to come back from here. Stranger things have happened however…

13:03 – Barry Hawkins has taken the longest frame of the tournament so far, lasting 56 minutes and 29 seconds to close to 10-12 with two frames to play. With both players looking edgy, it was a brilliant pot on the pink from Barry to effectively clinch the frame and if he can add one of the next two, he will go into the evening session with every chance of coming out on top.

14:52 – Game on this evening, as Barry takes both of the next two frames to draw level at 12-12 heading into the final session of the second semi-final. From 6-2 down after the opening session, he has won the next two 5-3 to even things up and leave that match perfectly poised now.

Following a break for a bit of fresh air outside, I headed back into the arena for the walk-ons of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump, as Rob Walker did his thing to energise the crowd and create an incredible atmosphere, the like of which I have perhaps never heard at the Crucible before. Certainly I have never heard the venue louder and hopefully we will see less of the shenanigans that marred last night’s evening session.

At the time of writing, O’Sullivan has extended his lead to 15-10, capitalising on a missed red from Judd when the world number three was looking to reduce the deficit. With the defending champion in and scoring again in the next, the early signs are not encouraging for Judd…

20:41 – Winning three of the first four frames this afternoon, Ronnie O’Sullivan is through to his fifth World Championship final with a 17-11 victory against Judd Trump. As Judd would later confirm to the press, the first two frames of the day would typify the match, as he found himself with chances that he couldn’t convert, allowing the clinical O’Sullivan to forge further clear.

Though Judd was able to take the next, Ronnie was soon able to mop up before the mid-session interval to secure his passage to the final. As ever, quotes will follow in the morning as the newspapers have first refusal on the quotes, however Judd’s press conference was I thought one of the best of the week, as he gave a very honest assessment of where the match was won and lost. Describing the added pressure of knowing that O’Sullivan would clear up should he miss, he came across well and added that he wants to win the world title in the future with Ronnie not only in the event, but to beat him along the way.

EDIT: Selected quotes from Judd as follows:

“Disappointment really because I did have chances and it was just really the first two sessions, I struggled and as soon as he got in front, he is so hard to peg back. I think the first two sessions let me down, my scoring was just not good enough at this level and probably the worst I have played at this tournament. I would have expected to probably lose to anyone playing like that.”

“He scored a lot heavier than I did and at the end of the day you have got to score while you are in. I think looking back at it, I probably got in first more times than he did so it shows how good my safety was and I think that my all-round game was easily good enough to compete with him, but over the tournament he’s missed less easy balls than the rest of us.”

“It’s good [for Ronnie to reach the final after a year out] but I think people expect it of him, he’s so much better than most of the other players and the match practice doesn’t come into it really. He’s good enough in the balls that he’s never far away, so he’s never really got any pressure on himself whereas a lot of other players are playing tough shots in the breaks and he’s never out of position. If you watch him play, the crowd hardly ever seem to clap because he’s always perfect, whereas me and the other players always have to pull out a good pot.”

“I don’t think that there was a lot in it to be honest. I’ve made the most centuries this season and I think if I were scoring like I can then it would have been a different outcome. Personally I thought my safety was better than his and I created a lot more chances than him and he mopped up over and over again. He hardly missed a ball in the whole match.”

“I think Ronnie puts you under pressure so you don’t play as well. Especially for the first two sessions he didn’t look like missing, so it puts extra pressure on you when you are in. That could have been one of the reasons that I missed a few balls but I just didn’t feel right. I felt ok last night and today I felt ok, but he had the job over and done with.”

“I want to win the World Championship with him in it and I want to beat him on the way.”

On the alleged ‘obscene gesture’ incident:

“I didn’t see it so I don’t know. I trust Michaela’s judgement but I think it takes some balls to stand up to him, but I didn’t see it personally.”

Ronnie meanwhile was understandably quizzed on his future, as well as the alleged lewd gesture yesterday, while again pointing to the upcoming release of his latest book later this year, which will explain the troubles that he has gone through over the last few years.

EDIT: Selected quotes from Ronnie:

“It was tough because I don’t think we both played anywhere near our best, there was a lot of tension out there during the sessions. We practice in the same environment, we used to be managed by the same manager, so obviously that creates a derby match type feel and obviously you have the crowd that are excited by the way that Judd plays and obviously over the years I have had support.”

“It was tough for me out there, three days, it wasn’t easy. A lot of the times I was having to keep my emotions in check and stay focused, which isn’t easy, but I’ve learned how to deal with that a lot better.”

“It doesn’t seem like you are being pushed, but believe me there are times out there when you are that close to cracking and then something will happen in the game and you pull ahead and that gives you a bit of belief and a bit of confidence.”

“But don’t get me wrong, in every match there has been a point when I’ve thought this could be going, this could be slipping, but then you manage to find something and you are ahead again. It hasn’t been like plain sailing for me. you are playing against top quality people that are ready to pounce and to punish you on any opportunity.”

“You can’t relax and I had to really hold it together here and that’s what I done all last year which is obviously making me much more of a difficult opponent to beat these days. Years ago I would probably have thrown the towel in at the second round when things weren’t going well, but i’m not doing that now. I’m managing to get the best out of myself with whatever I’ve got on the day and it has been good enough to get me to the final and please god it’s good enough to get me through one more match, but it’s definitely not been easy. The standard is very high but I’ve just managed to grit my way through in some ways.”

“My game felt much stronger last year because of playing in more events. I’m drawing on experience and trying to use my strong points in my game, it’s like a game of chess for me at the moment. Last year I was blasting through the field, I literally felt like there was no way that I was ever going to lose.”

On the ‘obscene gesture’ incident and whether Michaela was wrong to warn him:

“I think so. My hands were sticky, you get sticky hands through sweating, my butt was sticky, maybe I should get a towel next time and wipe it down like that but then maybe that would be seen as an obscene gesture, I can’t win, what if I do it with my tongue is that an obscene gesture, they must have someone to clean your cue now because you can’t do anything these days but listen there’s no hard feelings.”

Following the conclusion of what proved to be a long couple of press conferences, I headed out into the arena to watch the last frame and a half of the exhibition match between Stephen Hendry and Dennis Taylor, put on to entertain the crowd due to the length of the match. Of course this was nothing more than a bit of fun, but as a bit of a Hendry fan it was nice to see him back in action at the Crucible once again and there was one particularly amusing moment as Dennis Taylor managed to inadvertently spit on the table, that would be back in action for the final! Michaela’s reaction in particular was to prove priceless, as she struggled to regain her composure for a number of shots.

Another moment that amused was when somebody in the crowd shouted to Hendry ‘give him a frame’ to which Hendry turned round and replied ‘why? you clearly don’t know me very well!’ Even in a meaningless match, Hendry clearly wanted to win!

Following the fun out in the arena, I headed to Cafe Rouge for one last steak this tournament with @snookerisland, before collecting a chocolate cake ahead of the evening session.

As we returned to the Crucible, we saw that Hawkins had taken the opening frame of the evening on a re-spotted black to leave Walden behind for the first time in the tournament, while he then added the next to lead 14-12.

By now Walden’s body language looked to be far from encouraging and he duly lost the next two as well to trail 16-12, marking eight frames on the spin for a rejuvenated Hawkins.

23:27 – Barry Hawkins is through to the World Championship final for the first time in his career, withstanding a fightback from Ricky in the final few frames of the match to win 17-14.

It goes without saying what a terrific story this is for Barry, a professional of many years and a genuinely nice guy to go with it. Understandably emotional (and stunned), in his post-match interviews and press conference, it was refreshing to see him bouncing around the media centre, making telephone calls and just so happy to be into the final.

Make no mistake, tomorrow’s final is going to be the biggest test of his life, but he has nothing to lose now and will hopefully be able to relax, at least a little bit.

Selected quotes from Ricky:

“Barry started to play a little bit better towards the end of the match and I sort of deteriorated. I struggled with the conditions as well, both struggling with the table, bit of a scrappy game, but Barry deserved to win in the end.”

“It was difficult, not for Barry putting me in my seat really, just the table conditions I think, it was tough for both of us, there wasn’t much scoring going on, many one visit stuff and there were many bad bounces, a lot of bad contacts out there. That was bothering me more than the way Barry was playing, but he deserved to win.”

“Semi-finals of the World, semi-finals of the UK, I’ve won a couple of ranking events, I’m not too far away, my game is improving, I’ll sit down over the next couple of days and look at the positives. At the moment it’s still a bit sore.

“I think that Barry has got a great chance, his game is so solid, you have to work so hard for your chances, he doesn’t stick you in the balls too many times, you have got to play good safety and pot long balls. If Barry gets off to a good start, he can definitely keep Ronnie at bay I think.”

Barry meanwhile explained:

“Stunned. It didn’t feel real, once I had potted the red I knew I was in the final, I just can’t believe it to be honest, it doesn’t feel real at all. I feel surprisingly calm, it’s unbelievable, it hasn’t hit me at all.”

“I don’t know, just sheer determination I think. to be 9-7 down the way I was playing was unbelievable. I was trying so hard, Ricky was by far the better player, so to be 9-7 down I was over the moon. The last two sessions I managed to find a bit of form, knocked a couple of centuries in and it was a massive frame to go 12-12.

“I still can’t believe it, I don’t know what to say, I’m just speechless. completely gone!”

“I’ve got to go out there in the frame of mind that I am going to win. I know that it is easier said than done but I just need to concentrate on what I am doing, each ball, one ball at a time and if I can play at the top of my game then who knows.”

“If I go out there and think I can’t win, there is no point in going out there. I am in the final, I know it is going to be really hard, the toughest test of my life but I’ll be trying my hardest.”

“I’ve got nothing to lose, but there is always pressure. The moment that tops, there is something wrong really because it means that you don’t really care so if there is pressure then it means that you are caring and you want to win. So I will be trying to win over the next couple of days.”