We begin the second week of the 2014 World Championship as we did the first with a win for Ronnie O’Sullivan, but coming back from 9-7 and 11-9 down, it was it was rather more dramatic fashion than his opening round victory against Robin Hull a week ago.
Click below for my day eight diary, including reaction from both players, as well as the later stories from Doherty-McManus and Hawkins-Walden, which also finish today…
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Second Saturday at the Crucible and all eyes were on table one as Ronnie O’Sullivan resumed his last 16 match with Joe Perry, trailing 9-7 overnight. The early signs were ominous, Ronnie’s long game in particular clearly much-improved as he won the first of the session, before Perry took a close 20th frame to restore his two frame cushion.
It looked like Ronnie would draw level before the mid-session interval at 10-10, but a missed red when in the balls would ultimately pave the way for a Perry clearance and at 11-9 the match hung very much in the balance.
O’Sullivan though was looking as strong as he had throughout the match and perhaps the crucial moment came when with Perry in the balls, he went into the reds looking to go one frame away from victory, only to see the cue ball go in-off and O’Sullivan clear.
From there, the defending champion was relentless, completing victory with back-to-back century breaks, ending the session with a pot success rate reported to be over 97%. While some will point to the last frame of yesterday’s session, or the even the last of Thursday’s opening session as examples of where Joe may have ‘missed the boat’, for me he played a terrific match, demonstrating that it is possible to apply pressure to O’Sullivan and force him into making mistakes.
Credit must go to O’Sullivan, who even by his standards produced an outrageous display of snooker today to win the last four frames and complete a 13-9 victory with back to back centuries. When I said yesterday that it could only be a good thing to see O’Sullivan pushed, this is exactly why, as only then is it possible to see performances like that today.
Certainly, Joe Perry had no regrets as he came into the press room at the conclusion of the match:
“Just got blown away by the best player that there has ever been, what can you do? You get someone under pressure like that and he showed it throughout the match, he missed balls, I had him under a lot of pressure, I gave it everything and then he produced that at the end so what can you do.
“He’s so good that you have to accept the fact that he is going to win the odd frame in one-visit and you are not going to get a look in, I missed a couple of balls at the beginning but I settled down after I won that frame. I don’t think I have done a lot wrong, I went into the reds and went in-off, a little bit of a bad shot but unlucky all the same and that was about it really. The reds that he got in off were fantastic reds, I couldn’t do no more, he just absolutely played fantastic when it mattered.
“I’m pleased with my performance but ultimately I am absolutely gutted, I gave it everything, I had him where I wanted him. Maybe five years ago that would have been plenty good enough to beat him, but he’s a different animal these days and he got better and better towards the end.”
He was soon followed in by Ronnie O’Sullivan, who had clearly enjoyed being part of what was his closest match in a number of years here at the Crucible:
“I just stayed determined right to the end, I was never going to give in. It was hard because I was coming from behind all the time and he was playing really well. Every time I got close he would pull away and I was missing a few shots and he got on top of me and I just had to draw on all of my experience. I’ve been here so many times and won this a few times, so I just thought I had to use that as my ace card and just stick in until maybe something turns around.
“Well done to Joe, he has had a great tournament, a great season and played his part in a really good match. The fans definitely got their money’s worth today, that’s probably as more exciting a match than any of the finals that I have had, probably one of the most exciting matches that I have had at the Crucible.
“That’s the closest I’ve been to going out for quite a while, the last two tournaments I have won here I don’t think anyone has got within about six or seven frames of me so you realise you are in control of most matches but that match I was never in control of it at any point, I was behind from the off.
“I knew it was going to be close because the only way I was going to win it was it going close, because he was playing too well and once somebody gets a lead on you it’s really hard to peg them back. But I knew I was playing ok and I knew I just had to be patient and make him earn it.
“This is a special place, this type of venue just goes to show, Ding was the form player, but coming here it takes a special type of temperament. You don’t always have to do really well in other tournaments but I think it either brings the best out of you or the worst and I think with some players like Matthew Stevens, Shaun Murphy, certain type of players come here and seem to play their game and other players drop their level a little bit and at that standard it is fractions. I think it is who can handle the venue better really.
“I missed a lot of shots in that match, I was quite loose, I wasn’t on my game but I just had to keep fighting for every ball and it was a really tense atmosphere out there and it’s who can perform under that.”
It is an interesting point that Ronnie makes about the venue and a good one, while it hard to argue with either player’s assessment of the match. A bit of swearing aside at the end, that despite being said in a jokey context will surely earn him the regulation fine from the governing body, it was a great day for O’Sullivan and he will be back in action at the quarter-finals against either Shaun Murphy or Marco Fu.
Elsewhere this morning, Ken Doherty and Alan McManus were back underway in the clash of the veterans and it proved to be a nightmare session for Doherty, who lost the first six frames and failed to better his high break of 26 from the previous day.
As I was reaching for the Almanac however, Ken was able to finish the session strongly, breaks of 93 and 88, the latter on a maximum chase before he ran out of position on the 12th red. They will play to a finish this evening.
On the subject of the Almanac, during the past couple of years here in the media centre I have somehow become one of the ‘go to’ men for statistics by the likes of Rob Walker and this morning this led to me being given the nickname of ‘young Yatesy’ in honour of well-renowned statistician and Eurosport commentator Phil Yates. I asked on Twitter whether this is a good or a bad thing, Yates himself telling me via David Hendon that it was the latter, but I have been given worse nicknames during my time!
Also this morning, I had a sit down chat with referee Michaela Tabb to discuss the sort of things that she has to do during a typical Crucible day, something that I will bring you later on this week once I have had the time to type it up.
As for the afternoon session, Judd Trump got his second round match underway against Ryan Day and after a close few early frames, was able to win the final four to take a 6-2 lead into the second session. Following their respective first round performances, many were tipping an upset in this match, which led me to consider the historical importance of getting off to a good start for the contenders of this tournament here.
Over on table one, Ricky Walden resumed 9-7 up on Barry Hawkins and hoping to avoid a repeat of last season’s semi-final, when he surrendered a four frame lead against Barry to lose 17-14. Unfortunately for Ricky, that was to be exactly what would happen, Barry winning six of the day’s eight frames to seal a 13-11 win and put himself back into the quarter-finals.
As he came into the press area, the disappointment was plain to see, but he spoke well under what were difficult circumstances:
“Tough game really, it’s hard to say how I played, I was pretty patchy all of the way through, I think Barry was too. I sort of played well the second session, I felt that I was hitting the ball well and then just sort of fell apart a little bit, my technique didn’t hold up today and I was finding it really difficult. I let Barry off the hook really because he was pretty poor himself early on in the match.
“I was definitely feeling the pressure, I was just trying to get myself going with something because I had so many chances and was just not converting them.
“When the match is so close you have just got to try your hardest just to stick in. I didn’t feel as though I could do anything towards the end of that match if I am being totally honest but it’s a funny old game and if you stick in sometimes, things can turn quickly as I know, so I was just trying to stay in there really.
They’ve not been great games, both of them that we have played [here] to be honest, scrappy and dragging each other down for parts of the game and you just need somebody in those situations to go on a burst and I sort of did that in both games really but never kicked on when it mattered at the end towards the end. So every credit to Barry, he held himself together at the end and made a couple of good breaks.”
And he was soon followed by Barry Hawkins, who was clearly hugely relieved to have made it through another tough match here at the Crucible:
“I don’t know how much more I can take of this at this place, I just keep grinding matches out, it takes so much out of you. Me and Ricky just seem to bring the worst out in each other, it was just an absolute battle from start to finish. I managed to pot a few balls towards the end but even then I was making hard work of it with my positional play, I kept losing the white and making difficult shots for myself all the time when it should be so easy. But I’m over the moon to get through, I’ve got a few days off to relax and hopefully I can play my best snooker in the next match.
“At 9-5 down I was gone to be honest but I managed to say to myself, just win these last two frames, stay in the match and you never know tomorrow, he’s going to be under pressure in the final session. I managed to do it last night and I was over the moon, I thought that I had won the session to get to 9-7, especially the way I was playing and then today I started off well, century first frame and then it went a bit scrappy, losing the white a lot and running out of position and therefore not making the big breaks that we should have made. Just trying my absolute hardest to be honest, I’m grateful that Ricky started to miss a few at the end an I managed to pot a few, so I am over the moon to be in the quarter-finals now.
“From 9-5 down I was thinking if I can come back at him, perhaps the thoughts would come back from last year when I was 12-8 down and when someone comes back at you from having a big lead it is not a nice place sometimes so I thought just try and keep him under pressure and when I got to 10-10 at the first mini-session today, I was thinking it’s game on now and if I can step up my game I have got a good chance of winning. Ricky started to miss a few and I managed to play a little bit better so that made a big difference today.”
With the evening session approaching, Rob Walker came up with a good point, that this evening would see four qualifiers in the Crucible arena at the same time. This is something that has happened twice before, most recently back in 2008, when Joe Perry, Stuart Bingham, Joe Swail and Liang Wenbo shared the arena at the second stage of the competition.
Getting underway were Dominic Dale and Michael Wasley, a match that saw a number of different predictions beforehand, but ended with a one-sided first session, Dominic winning seven of the eight frames played to take a six frame lead into the second session tomorrow.
Over on table two, in the battle of the veterans between Alan McManus and Ken Doherty, it was Alan who came out on top, resisting a late comeback from the 1997 world champion who failed to repeat his last 32 heroics against Stuart Bingham.
While disappointed, Ken was still able to make a few laughs, telling interviewer George Riley that he had heard him commentating today and saying that Willie Thorne would be worried for his job, before getting down to the serious business:
“It was very disappointing, but Alan played tremendous matchplay snooker. I know it was long and drawn out at times. The second session in particular I just didn’t get going at all, I just felt I was absolutely battered and bruised.
“It was a really tough game, he’s very tough to play against, one of the toughest match players I’ve ever faced, all the years and he hasn’t changed. His knowledge of the angles, his safety was top quality and he kept me on the back wall all the time. I didn’t have an answer for it. In the second session, the last couple of frames I started to get going a little bit, but I didn’t really get into any rhythm like I did against Stuart Bingham and that was the substance of it.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for both of us, two forty somethings battling for a place in the quarter-finals. These chances don;t come around that often, but I must say I have enjoyed my time here. It has been really thrilling, emotional. I don’t know when I am going to be back at the Crucible, it may be my last time, I don’t know, but I certainly enjoyed the week that I have had here. I would have loved to have gone a little bit further, I was trying my best to give everything 100%, but in the end it just didn’t appear for me today.
“I don’t want it to be my last time because I just love this place so much, it’s a fantastic place, I love playing here, there is a great atmosphere, the crowd were brilliant. It may be my last day, it may not be, we’ll have to wait and see.
“I think he can [McManus trouble Mark Selby], if he plays that way, he has to score a little bit but his overall matchplay snooker is top quality. Mark Selby is very similar, but Mark Selby scores probably a lot heavier than Alan, but on his day Alan is a match for anybody.”
As for Alan, he was soon to follow and though pleased, was typically philosophical in victory:
“Ken really struggled, especially first part of the match, it’s not the Ken that you expect. I was just waiting on him to start to play a lot better. When he got it back to 10-5, 10-6, he is still in there fighting, so I was never over the line. I got lucky in the end, a crazy fluke, probably the craziest fluke I have ever had in my life and fell over the line again.
“You always want to be [in the quarter-finals]. It’s difficult to say, I’m still winning some matches, I am still beating some top players now and again, especially if I get on a TV table I feel a lot more comfortable. I’ve always been that way, although you wouldn’t have known that by some of the balls I was missing, I was getting a bit nervy, sometimes it’s not easy as the winning line presents itself.
I know [on having to wear his tartan trousers again], I can’t get rid of the bloody things! I only brought one pair down, it was one of those things where if you’ve got a different cue you would leave it in the cupboard so you have no option but to use it or wear it. I probably should get a different colour now, probably get sick of looking at them, but it’s a bit of fun and hopefully it adds something to the tournament no matter how small it is.
“I guess I’m going to have to wear them again in a couple of days time. They might be a little bit of a lucky omen, I’ll keep wearing them, probably because I’ve not got any choice, it’s either that or a pair of denims and I don’t think Mike Ganley would allow that.
“I believe I play Mark Selby next, obviously I’ll be massive underdog in that game. But I try to enjoy it now, I’ve been writing down little phrases on pieces of paper and taking it out there, which obviously no-one knows about so I thought I might as well tell you. A couple of technical things but at the end of it the last couple of words is ‘enjoy it’ because there are a lot of worse things going on in the world than me or anyone else losing a snooker match.
“I’m trying to enjoy it because you never know how many times you are going to be back here. I’m pretty philosophical, I guess as you get older that’s what you do, so I try to be pretty relaxed about it because if you get all up tight it can get to you.
“I’m going to have to when I get my chances really take them because Mark is so used to the big stage now and he’s playing probably, I don’t know about quite at the top of his game as he was maybe two or three years ago when he was winning Masters and things but, he’s one of the premier players in the game, one of the top three or four players without question.
“I’m going to have to be a bit more consistent and cut out the silly mistakes that crop up but I kind of doing like playing the big names, I always have done and that’s part of the enjoyment for me of playing this game. It’s a three session match so I’ll go and play three little matches and see where it takes me. But I’ve got some work to do on the practice table, I’m going to have to work the next couple of days and just iron out a couple of things and get my discipline where it needs to be, produce a good performance and where that takes me we will find out after the match.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s a big occasion obviously. There are a lot of guys in the game who never get to play a quarter-final here and I feel good, I could be doing with getting a couple of days off. Thinking about the calendar now and this is not a moan…well it is, but I think I’ve have one weekend at home since the middle of January so it’s tough. You travel around and you win a couple of games here and there and it’s difficult.
“It’s such a long tournament this and I’m not even halfway there, wherever the end may be, but philosophically looking at it, it’s not every week that you get a chance to be here and do this so that’s the other side and you have got to appreciate it and I certainly do.
At the qualifiers, Alan was notable for his support of a wildcard being given to Steve Davis potentially, so I asked him how he felt in light of Barry Hearn’s announcement earlier in the week:
“Fantastic for me. I’ve said privately in the last year, although I’ve not spent any time with Stephen Hendry, we had a game of golf and I wouldn’t ask him, but something about the situation told me he wasn’t finished playing. That’s just what I believed, I could have been wrong and I could still be wrong, but I’m glad he’s going to play and the same with Steve Davis.
“The rights and wrongs of the thing I don’t look too much at, for me there are far more positives than negatives. Imagine Stephen playing here at the Crucible, everyone would be watching, that’s what this game is all about. I think it’s good news and I hope they get plenty of chances to play.
“It’s probably two years to the day since Stephen stopped playing. It’s funny when you stop playing, now I can’t tell Stephen Hendry anything about this game, but when you stop playing for a couple of years I would imagine you look at guys missing balls and think that I have got to get about that. But then reality kicks in when the cue comes back out and it’s tough out there, but I’m sure he will handle it really well because of the man and the player that he is.
“I can’t wait to see him play again, I’m sure that everyone can’t wait to see him again.”