An out-of-sorts Ronnie O’Sullivan battled through an erratic display to earn a 10-7 overnight lead against Kyren Wilson in the World Snooker Championship final, but the match remains very much alive after Wilson fought back from a seemingly unassailable 8-2 deficit.
O’Sullivan was in typically mercurial mood, showing flashes of genius amongst an array of strange decisions and poor cueing, and was fortunate in the early stages to come up against an opponent in Wilson who seemed a little overawed in his first Crucible final.
Playing in front a small crowd for the first time in this tournament, both players struggled to adjust to a table which received plenty of criticism from players and pundits for its unpredictable feel, with Australian former champion Neil Robertson tweeting: “This is the worst I’ve ever seen a one-table setup play. No reaction, bouncy, square and kicks galore.”
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O’Sullivan made the best of it in the afternoon session, piling on pressure by capitalising on a nervy Wilson’s mistakes. But the five-time champion seemed to loose concentration as Wilson steadied in the evening, winning five of the night’s final seven frames to give himself real hope of winning a first world title at the end of this best-of-35 battle.
A pivotal moment came earlier in the day, in the final frame of the afternoon session and longest of the final so far. With O’Sullivan leading 5-2, Wilson needed just the pink to clinch the frame and go to the break two behind. He stayed patient during a long safety exchange before earning a long potting chance, but rattled the pink in the jaws and O’Sullivan cleared up to go in 6-2 ahead.
At the interval, Stephen Hendry wrote off any chance of a Wilson comeback. This was done, he said. Yet the seven-time champion should know better, given he himself won the 1992 world title having trailed Jimmy White 14-8. Wilson rallied brilliantly, returning to the auditorium in the evening seemingly without the nerves that affected him earlier in the day.
O’Sullivan pinched the first frame after the restart coming from behind, then added another after the slightest of safety errors by Wilson to lead 8-2. But Wilson is known for his doggedness, his refusal to budge, and he constructed a beautiful 92 break in the next frame to stop the rot.
Suddenly he had a spring in his step as he skipped around the table to line up the next ball, while O’Sullivan went the opposite way. In the following frame the Rocket was left needing snookers, but continued playing and fouling before eventually clearing up to lose the frame in a bizarre finish, when he could have conceded far earlier. It was now 8-4 and he seemed rattled.
Wilson hauled himself back to 8-6 before a weary O’Sullivan scrambled a 48 break to win his ninth frame and ensure he would be the overnight leader. They shared the final two frames of the night to leave it 10-7, with O’Sullivan in front holding a healthy lead, but the score belies a momentum which has brought Wilson real hope.
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