Not for the first time, Ronnie has fibres projecting from his tip, so gets the lighter out to burn them off. Shortly afterwards, he has a go at one to right corner, misses, and Judd can send it home to the green pocket, via rest. Pink and green are both tied up, but the route to and from the blue is clear, and a nudge into the pack gives him more red options – the first a plant to left corner.
This is the final frame of the afternoon. Should Ronnie win it, he’s nearly there; should Judd win it, things will look very different.
ultimately, Ronnie gets top-side of the blue, breaks the pack, and though he nearly sends the white into the middle off another blue, the frame is safe by the time he misses a red to left corner. Judd returns needing three snookers, has a go at one then messes the balls. He needs four more for history, and ultimately it’s hard to see Judd winning twice as many before he can pull that off.
I say that, but truly the pink is stuck to a red and the black is marooned on the side, so this is no gimme, reckless though Judd’s pot was. Thing is, no one can navigate around the table like Ronnie, his cue-ball control and snooker brain the greatest we’ve ever seen. He has a preternatural ability to simplify the complicate, picking the right balls to remove in the right order, and though he keeps getting the wrong side of the blue, his shot-making is so good such that it’s in addition to matter.
He can’t find, never mind play one, so tries a pot, misses, careers into what remains of the bunch, and Ronnie is like the Blues Brothers in Dixie Square Mall – “this place has got everything!”
If Judd wins this, we’ll be talking about this for evermore, and oh my days! He clatters a starter towards right corner, it scuttles about the jaws, wipes its feet, removes its hobnail boots … and drops! BUT HAVE AN ABSOLUTE LOOK! Judd misses a black off its identify! This game! So Ronnie resumes, fractures the pack earlier than he needed to, and winds up on nowt! He might try a tricky one to the middle, but as he has all tournament, he takes the sensible option, playing safe to the baulk cushion, and Judd must now conceive of, then play a safety shot that leaves nothing. Good luck old mate!
Curiouser and curiouser! Ronnie hasn’t lost a session all tournament, but what a clearance that was from Judd, who knew that he couldn’t provide to miss. In co-comms, they surprise why Ronnie didn’t roll the red he missed, because he could always have played a snooker if he couldn’t pot the next ball; pressure! This game!
A poor shot on the final red leaves Judd with a difficult colour, whichever he picks. He opts for blue, a tickled cut to left-middle and here is goes … the ball slides across the confront of the pocket, again it drops when yesterday it might’ve refused, and this is going to be another one off the rule!
But it’s Ronnie who forces the chance, fully committing to a clip to that right corner – though the position of the black method that the last two reds only to to the opposite pocket. AND RONNIE MISSES THE FIRST OF THEM! He tried to punch it in because otherwise he’d not’ve been able to get onto the final red off the black, but what a chance for Judd to steal!
There are three reds left and the black is close to left corner, taking most of that pocket out of commission; so far, it’s Ronnie controlling the exchange, but Judd is playing well enough not to leave anything.
A terrific red, taken from middle to right corner, sets up the break, and when he splits the pack he attacks it with greater conviction than Judd did, risking more for greater reward … and with good reason. He liberates various balls, redeems a poor positional shot with a lovely blue to the green pocket … then gets the wrong side of the blue. Pressure! He so rarely does that, his control of the white better than anyone’s ever, but it leaves him a nasty one to right corner … and he can’t see it away! The frame is back in the balance!
Catching a red fuller than he intended, Judd needs the spider for the next one and just about sends it down, off the flat of the knuckle – things that didn’t drop for him yesterday are treating him with greater kindness today, but you can only chase for so long and he misses the black. Can Ronnie capitalise?
A poor safety from Ronnie offers Judd a tempter to left-middle, but as JV reminds us, those pockets are notoriously unforgiving. Judd, though, can’t really refuse the opportunity and when he finds the far knuckle, offers Ronnie a chance. His divided doesn’t go as planned but he’s just about on one to right-middle … which he overcuts! Ronnie really isn’t at it today, and when Judd sends a similar ball to the opposite bag, he’s back in amongst it! Goodness me, what might we be about to see?!
As the man who discovered three holes in the ground said, “Well well well”. Another one to Judd, and Lisowski tells us that between frames, he went to his mucker’s dressing room but could tell he wasn’t listening to what was being said to him, just eating his donut. There’s a lesson for life there.
Playing a red to right corner, along black cush, Judd flicks the near jaw and watches aghast as it just about wobbles in. But there’s a knock-on effect: the next black leaves him another tricky red, a cut-back, which he drains well, but which takers him down the table. So he tucks in behind the green and Ronnie hits his target ball complete, knocking it just about safe; Judd plays an attacking safety shot, adding some jeopardy to Ronnie’s next go by breaking the cluster. And the ruse works! A poor response leaves a long to right corner, Judd clips it home easily enough, and this looks like four out of five to the Ace in the Pack.
It doesn’t go great, leaving a thin cut-back to left corner … and Ronnie jawses it! With nothing easy on, Judd picks a red to left-centre that’s harder than one to the green pocket because it guarantees position … and down it goes! With the black obtainable to both corners, if eh works his way back up the business end, which he surely will the frame will shortly be at his mercy!
A poor break from Judd gives Ronnie a chance of a long red; he misses and leaves one for Judd, who under-tickles the black to left corner, handing Ronnie the table! There aren’t many reds at which to pick, so he’ll be into the pack soon enough, and if that works well the rule could soon be back to six.
…and off we go again!
If you’d offered Judd a 3-1 start, he’d’ve took it, as Ryan Giggs might say – but he’ll be disappointed it wasn’t 4-0. We’ve got ourselves an evening session though, and a repeat of what we’ve just seen would set it up nicely. See you in 15…
There’s a red close to the side cushion that Ronnie needs to develop and he can’t quite find the angle he needs. But chwhat a shot he plays at the last moment, sending the green to right corner, screwing across the table to get in behind it, and floating it across the table into the same, newly-blind bag! That is sensaaaaational, it really is, and not only will it extend his rule back to five frames, but it reminds Judd quite how ridiculous his task it.
A poor positional shot leaves Judd straight on the black when he needed an angle to get at the next red … but he eases to left-middle and whether he can win the frame at this visit will depend on what happens when he breaks the pack. He has a go off the black and though it doesn’t quite work out – it was a fine effort – has he produced a plant to right-middle? Well, yes and no: he has, but it’s a taxing one and he can’t complete it. This gives Ronnie a chance, and if he can steal at this visit he’ll be comparatively happy with life; if he can’t, the pressure will ratchet up another level. This is tense…
Ronnie slides a red to left-middle, the first ball he’s removed in 25 minutes, he’s on the blue, and if the next red goes down he’ll have the black obtainable to both pockets. Usually, that method trouble, but the shot before it is loose, leaving the white close to the side, he jawses the pot, and here comes Judd! His first black is a brute, not because it’s difficult but because screwing across the table onto the only possible red is that and more; he plays is beautifully, splatters the pack, and the mini-sesh whitewash is on!
Ronnie is the best front-runner snooker has ever seen because if he gets in front, it’s hard to play better than him by enough for long enough to prevent him bringing it home. So though this is a good start for Judd, it’s far from a telling one, and he desperately needs this final frame of the mid-sesh. If he does, we’re got a match on our hands.
This isn’t vintage Judd, his cue-ball control making each pot harder than necessary. But he sticks at his task, and this is shaping up.
Judd can’t though, get position off the next red, so snuggles in behind the green; Ronnie’ll do well to find a red and leave nothing here, missing altogether on his first go and leaving a testing cut-back on his second. Judd sees it away well, sends a pink to right-middle, and from here, this should be another frame clawed back.
Judd needs one more frame to avoid the embarrassment of losing with a session to spare or, put another way, our evening is in your hands, dude. AND HAVE A LOOK! He clacks in a tremendous starter to right corner, a felicitous kiss of the sort that largely missed him yesterday leaves him on the brown, and what can he make of this? With pink confined and black out of commission, he’ll need to move up and down the table, but he’s doing so very nicely, hitting the middle of the bags. Off the blue, he then breaks the cluster, and it works out OK.
Do we got ourselves a ball-game? Judd needs at the minimum one of the next two, but he’s feeling his way back and will be feeling much better about life that an hour ago. The confidence isn’t quite there in addition, but you can see it building, and with a player as natural as he is, that’s a huge thing. He’ll also have noted the red Ronnie missed early in that last frame – he’s a long way ahead, but he’s also under a lot of pressure, the realisation of his life’s work dangling in front of his eyes.
Ronnie returns to the table needing three snookers with one red remaining, and after a cursory attempt using the green as a screen, he tucks in behind the black, the red near left-middle, and Judd misses, winding up in the pocket. So Ronnie ties to find the same identify off the red, double-kisses it instead, and that’s another frame in the books.
Judd is taking these nicely enough, but when he finishes a little short on a red he’s forced to screw down the table for yellow. He takes it nicely, and the frame is nearly his.
Ronnie ushers a red to right corner and a friendly cannon gives him a choice of baulk colours – he picks brown – using it to make his way up the table. The table isn’t nicely set, but if he can get the angle he needs off the next red to drop black into right-middle – which of course he does, right in the middle of the time of action Dennis Taylor drew on the screen to indicate the necessary position – he’ll be in good shape. But have a look! He misses the next red to left corner, and Judd is back in business!
Ronnie snicks a red and avoids cannoning any of the others, but he contributes a different one towards right corner. I can’t see Judd refusing this, but the red will career into the cluster so if he misses he’s in all sorts and if he doesn’t, what will he be on? He goes for it as he must, and brings the white back by a gap that leaves him a pink to right-middle! Down it goes, but there’s nevertheless a lot of work to do for this to become a serious chance, so the next colour – a black to right-corner, sent similar with the top cushion – is a tester. It’s not as fiendish as the one he despatched in the past frame but is eminently missable and indeed he does miss it. Left little, Ronnie sinks a starter, without already trying to get position, then plays safe.
With it getting increasingly difficult to find a safety, Judd tries a thin one but catches the pink first; there follows a pause while the ref and assistants figure out how best to replace the balls. Regular readers will be surprised to hear me say this, but I can’t think of a job a hamfisted klutz like me would be worse at than that, and luckily for them Judd tries a different shot second time, so we’re quickly back exchanging safety.
In the box, Stephen is delighted that Judd took on that first black, because though it was high tariff, he badly needed the raise of sinking it. Every journey starts with a single step. But it’s Ronnie in first in frame 19 with a lovely long red, clipped to left corner and it looks like he’s going to cannon the blue too … but he misses it, just, so on nothing can only restart a safety exchange.
A blue to the yellow pocket, played righty, raises that elusive ton, and though the black doesn’t drop, Judd retires to his seat with a 106 behind him. He needed that, as a cartoon character whose name escapes me was wont to say after being hit on the head. Can anyone remember who I average?
A red to left corner leaves Ronnie needing snookers, but Judd will want more than that – he’s not made a ton in this match in addition, and needs to let it be known that he’s “nevertheless fighting for this title”.
A gorgeous pink to right-middle, floated at an acute angle and dropping in off the far knuckle, clears the area around the black identify and this is now a terrific chance to clinch the first frame of the day.
Ronnie’s discipline in this competition has been so good – he’s done the correct thing almost every time, already if it goes against his attacking instincts. But a decent safety from Judd has him missing a little snick and the second go hands Judd a chance. Though he takes the opener, he focuses everything on making sure of the pot – that’s a man not thoroughly confident in his game – but what a black comes next, caressed along the top cushion by snuggling in behind it from above. Can he make it count?
Ronnie leaves the white near the blue identify, somehow leaving nothing, so Judd tries forcing a plant to left corner, getting nowhere near and somehow leaving nothing … easy. But playing Ronnie in this form and headspace, a tight one to left-middle is soon gliding home, and nothing we’ve seen so far indicates today will be much different to yesterday. Ronnie, though, pots the blue into the yellow pocket only to bring the white back a roll or two too much, the replaces blue covering the reds for which he’d played, so it’s another safety with both players aware that the next of them to get in will have a decent chance of a frame-winning run.
Judd breaks off nicely, forcing Ronnie to play thin off a stray – yes, we’re first-name terms here, what of it? – and he goes in-off, which he won’t mind as there’s no dangling tempter. But there is shortly afterwards, to left corner – no gimme but one Judd should and needs to drain – except he jawses it and already he’s in big trouble as Ronnie accumulates. Except have a look! A misjudged cannon leaves the white stuck to a red in the cluster, so he plays safe back to baulk, a boon for Judd. It’s so scarce you see Ronnie lose control of the cue-ball, his deftness about the black identify miles ahead of anyone else’s.
A wry grin and some dap as he descends the stairs, then here comes Ronnie. The crowd give him loads.
A standing ovation as the boyz prepare to baize. Judd does not look chuffed, at all.
Jack Lisowski loves a shirt unbuttoned with t-shirt underneath; techno’s Steve Davis is in a syoot. It’s on!
Also, a good choice of music for BBC’s opening montage, for this is what we’re doing.
Stephen Hendry is proper champion. None of this “Records are there to be broken, it’ll great for the sport to see Ronnie overtake me”. He’s “slowly coming to terms with it”. On which point, here’s a bit on not only one of the greatest players ever but one of the greatest co-commentators in sport.
These are interesting stats. Essentially, if Ronnie’s at it, good luck beating him – it’s what made Selby’s win so special. In that situation, only he has the ability to sneak enough frames he shouldn’t.
And here’s something on what makes the world snooker championship so special.
Here’s something on that 2014 final, the first time O’Sullivan lost one and, for my the first time he was properly outplayed once he was fully-formed.
Truth is, watching Trump struggle against Bingham in the last eight, it was near-enough impossible to see him improving enough to win the thing – just as it near-enough impossible to see Higgins improving enough to beat O’Sullivan in the last four. There’s something different about O’Sullivan this term. He’s focused his complete season around becoming world champion, and though he won at the Cruce in 2020, he got a little fortunate to beat Mark Selby in a final-frame semi-final decider then play an depleted Kyren Wilson in the final. This is the best he’s played in Sheffield since 2014 when he somehow lost the final to Mark Selby, but this time, his day-one superiority is reflected by the overnight score. To begin with, all Trump can do is try and avoid the ignominy of defeat with a session to spare – that hasn’t happened since 1993, when Stephen Hendry whacked Jimmy White 18-5.
There’s almost nothing in this world that won’t, at some point, let us down – work, sport, friends, family, government, God. But every year, we can rely on the world snooker championship to bring light, joy and drama.
This term, we’ve had Neil Robertson making a 147 of startling smoothness in front of the mum he’d not seen for two years, and with Judd Trump waiting on the other side of the partition to congratulate him. Trump then beat Anthony McGill in a thriller, while Robertson lost a final-frame decider to Jack Lisowski, finally making good on his enormous possible and with Trump, one of his closest mates, again waiting to proportion the moment with him.
We’ve also had John Higgins coming back from one down with two to play to beat Lisowski; Trump playing one of the worst mini-sessions of his career before winning eight frames to straight to beat Stuart Bingham; and Ronnie O’Sullivan conjuring an unfathomable, disgraceful clearance of 43, up there with Alex Higgins’ famous 69 in 1982, to steal a frame from Higgins on a respotted black.
But my favourite moment this term was truly a moment: the look shared between Trump and Mark Williams prior to the last frame of their semi-final thriller. Somehow, in a few seconds, they conveyed the respect for what they’d done and what they were going to do; how difficult that is and what it method; how impressed they were with each other and themselves; the bond forged between them by competition, the intimacy of intensity. It was beautiful, moving and, if we’re being real, extremely envy-inducing. What must it feel like to feel like that?
Trump then turned towards the crowd and noised them up, they responded with all the reverence the players deserved, and he clinched a win that seemed unavoidable when he finished the first session 7-1 in front, but far less so when he trailed by one with Williams needing just one more to win.
Somehow, Trump needs to find that spirit this afternoon. There’s a feeling known as the overview effect, that some astronauts experience when seeing the world from above, giving them a sense of transcendence and connection which bring with it a renewed sense of perspective and love for humanity. These method are unavailable to most of us, but luckily for us, the consciousness is not: we can watch Ronnie O’Sullivan play snooker.
Though he’s not the tearaway genius of 2004, when he lost just 26 frames in cruising to the title playing better than anyone ever has before, he’s no less a genius for that. His instinctive, intellectual grasp of the best route around a table is elevated by a fresh and calm desperation to equal Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles, his 12-5 overnight rule well-earned and almost definitely conclusive.
However, though Trump can’t compete with O’Sullivan’s masterful deployment of nudges, cannons and touches, he remains one of the most devastating potters the game has ever seen and its finest recovery-potter bar none. His performance in 2019, when he trounced Higgins 18-8, is not just the greatest snooker has ever seen but one of the greatest in any final in any any sport, ever, and if he can find that standard or anything close to it today, he can’t be counted out. If he does – and he’s going to have to – we’ll see something we’ll be talking about for as long as we’re talking about anything. And if he doesn’t, we stand on the cusp of history. Here we go!
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