28 february 2021 publish date

The snooker classics. O'Sullivan and Higgins are in the finals again! SF Players Championship 2021

Ronnie O’Sullivan came from 3-0 down to beat Barry Hawkins 6-4 at the Cazoo Players Championship and reach a record-equalling 57th ranking event final.

After the effortlessness of last night’s win over Jack Lisowski, this time O’Sullivan was given a much tougher examination, but came out on top to set up a clash on Sunday with John Higgins or Kyren Wilson. Only Stephen Hendry has appeared in as many ranking finals.

O’Sullivan has won 37 of his previous 56, but has lost three in a row this season. He was beaten by Judd Trump at the Northern Ireland Open, Mark Selby at the Scottish Open, and surprisingly by Jordan Brown at the BetVictor Welsh Open five days ago. The 45-year-old has bounced back quickly from that setback and has another opportunity to capture his first silverware since landing his sixth World Championship crown last August.

Both players missed chances in the opening frame tonight and Hawkins won it on the colours, then he made breaks of 109 and 87 to extend his lead. Frame four came down to a safety battle with two reds remaining, and O’Sullivan trapped his opponent in a tough snooker, then scored the points he needed from the chance that followed to gain a foothold in the match at 3-1.

After the interval, O’Sullivan found a scoring groove, winning four frames in 48 minutes with 83, 75, 90 and 79. Hawkins took frame nine with an 81 to draw within one at 5-4.

In frame ten, O’Sullivan led 32-24 when he missed a red to a top corner. Hawkins replied with 38 then was unlucky not to finish on a red when he cannoned a cluster of three near the baulk cushion. A tactical exchange ended with a botched safety from Hawkins, letting O’Sullivan in to clear with 42 for victory.

image

“It was a tough match, I wasn’t at the races early on,” said world number two O’Sullivan, who won this event in 2018 and 2019. “I had to find a way of getting back into the match and after the interval I managed to play better.

“In the last frame I was getting tight, I knew I would miss something. Barry was looking good for 5-5, but he was unlucky when he cannoned the reds.”

Earlier today O’Sullivan watched a masterclass from John Higgins, beating Mark Selby 6-0, and the Essex cueman knows it will be a formidable task if he faces Higgins in the final.

“It was ridiculous, I couldn’t watch in the end. It was so granite, it was evil,” said O’Sullivan in admiration. “John showed what a class player he is because Selby is one of the best in the business at those type of matches. It was the toughest matchplay I’ve ever seen, it was bordering on the obscene.

“How can you be that tough? It’s not easy to play defensive snooker that well. John and Mark are better at it than anyone. It’s a waste of time for me to try because I can do it for 80% of the time, then mess up with one shot. But those guys are very astute, it was real purists’ stuff. If I play John in the final and he does that to me, I’ll be sitting in my chair a lot.”

John Higgins kept his sensational form going at the Cazoo Players Championship as he beat Kyren Wilson 6-1 to set up a final with Ronnie O’Sullivan.

image

Higgins came so close to becoming the first player ever to reach the final of a ranking event (other than the Shoot Out) without conceding a frame. Having whitewashed Jordan Brown and Mark Selby 6-0 in his first two matches this week, he led 5-0 tonight, only for Wilson to get one on the board. But missing out on that record will not bother Higgins as he looks ahead to a potentially epic clash with O’Sullivan, with both players at the top of their game.

First to ten frames on Sunday takes the trophy and £125,000 top prize. Scotland’s 45-year-old Higgins is chasing his 31st career ranking title and first since the 2018 Welsh Open. Not since he beat O’Sullivan 9-2 at the 2005 Grand Prix have the pair met in the final of a ranking event. However, including invitation events they have met in a total of 17 finals, O’Sullivan winning ten of those.

Higgins admits he is playing some of the best snooker of his 29-year career, having made a change to his technique, bringing the cue tip closer to the white ball at address. He was runner-up to Yan Bingtao at the Betfred Masters last month and will be determined to go one better this time.

A fragmented opening frame tonight went his way and he took the second with a break of 108. In frame three, Higgins had eyes on a 147 and potted 11 reds with blacks before missing a mid-range 12th red to a top corner on 88.

Wilson went for an ambitious long blue early in frame four, but missed his target and was punished again as world number six Higgins made 70 for 4-0. Kettering’s Wilson looked in control of frame five after a run of 65. But Higgins, 50 points down, converted a superb pot on a red to a centre pocket to set up a 51 clearance.

image

World number five Wilson at least had the consolation of becoming the first player this week to take a frame off Higgins thanks to his break of 102 in frame six. But his hopes were ended by a run of 74 from Higgins in the seventh.

“I won a massive frame to go 5-0, because if Kyren gets firing he can get on a roll,” said Higgins, who has made five centuries and ten more breaks over 50 this week. “He’s up there with the best players in the world so I’m over the moon to beat him 6-1.

“I have moved my tip closer to the cue ball when I address it. One of my friends told me they had seen Ronnie and Stephen Hendry talking about it on Instagram, saying my tip was a long way from the cue ball. I looked back at recent footage and they were right, then I looked at footage of when I was younger, and I was a lot closer to the white. It must have crept into my game over the years like a bad habit. That has given me something to work on and now I have corrected it and I’m trying to repeat the same thing on every shot.”

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s final, Higgins added: “I have always said Ronnie is the best ever, in my eyes. I grew up playing him, and he’s still winning the big events, challenging Selby, Robertson and Trump. The likes of me and Mark Williams are in the tier below, trying to nick a title here and there.”

The article is based on WST.TV