By Mark Rawlinson
Despite taking a year out of professional snooker, a number of bookies had Ronnie O’Sullivan as favourite to defend his World title at the Crucible this year after he ripped through the field last year to beat Ali Carter in the final.
He came into this tournament as an unknown entity – people knew he was capable of winning the competition but the question was would a lack of match practice hinder The Rocket from doing that.
However, he answered a number of critics after cruising his way into way into the final again this year with seemingly little effort.
The atmosphere was electric on the opening day of the tournament as he saw off Marcus Campbell 10-4. In truth, the Scot was never likely to cause an upset in the match but he could’ve made life very difficult for him. O’Sullivan didn’t have it all his own way but it was a relatively easy victory as he knocked in top breaks of 102 and 90 along the way.
A much tougher match came in the next round as he faced the man who he beat in last year’s final, Ali Carter. Carter has had a reasonable season, winning the German Masters a particular highlight but was cagey going into the match, knowing he had never beaten O’Sullivan in any of their 15 previous ranking event meetings.
Ronnie got off to a good start and led 5-1 at one point but Carter hung on in and remained a couple of frames behind him until the latter stages when O’Sullivan fired in breaks of 88, 106 and 89 to swoop to a 13-8 victory.
It felt as though O’Sullivan was just getting warmed up and he showed his sheer quality by demolishing Stuart Bingham, who is certainly no pushover, 13-4. Bingham is a player right on the top of his game at the moment and is as at a career high ranking of eighth but could do little to stop the devastation of O’Sullivan. He led 7-0 and 12-1 at points in the match but Bingham did restore a little pride by winning three frames on the trot.
After that match O’Sullivan claimed that the only reason he was playing in the tournament was to pay for his children’s school fees as he had been short of money beforehand.
He faced his toughest test yet in the semis as he played 2011 World Championship finalist Judd Trump. O’Sullivan held a 5-3 advantage after the first session and managed to keep himself ahead whilst Trump threw away chances to punish him. In the end he prevailed 17-11 winner complete an incredible in run to the final.
In the other corner will be Barry Hawkins who has performed some excellent upsets on course to secure a spot in the sport’s flagship final. The man from Kent had a steady start to his career without any particular success until last January when he lifted the snooker shoot-out title in Blackpool.
More was to come last summer when he won his first professional ranking event final in Australia. He’s since had a strong season, also reaching the semi-finals of the German Masters and arrived in Sheffield high on confidence.
After beating an uneasy crucible debutant Jack Lisowski in the first round, the 34-year old caused on of the biggest shocks of the tournament as he defeated world number one Mark Selby 13-10.
He then saw off China’s Ding Junhui 13-7 in the quarters before performing an excellent comeback against Ricky Walden in the semi-finals. Hawkins looked extremely nervous as he first stepped out for the semi and was 6-2 down after the first session. His dreams of a final looked to be coming to an end as he later trailed 12-8 but incredibly won eight frames in a row to go 16-12 up and despite a mini-revival from Hawkins, beat him 17-14 to set up the biggest match of his career.
As expected, Ronnie is a huge favourite to win his sixth world title on Monday and is 1/8 on at Bet Victor. Hawkins will have to work his socks off to stand any chance of winning the final at all and the best odds for a Hawkins victory is with bet365 at 6/1.
The final begins at 2pm on Sunday afternoon, continuing later in the evening and at 2pm Monday afternoon before concluding at 7pm on Monday.