Champion of Champions snooker – Day 4: Ronnie O’Sullivan advances in quest for fourth title
Yesterday was the final group stage of the tournament, and it saw the final player advance to the semi-finals, where they had a meeting with Fan Zhengyi awaiting them. There could only be one winner on the day – would it be Ronnie O’Sullivan, Robert Milkins, Zhao Xintong or Mink Nutcharut? Here’s what happened on day four, as the last group was whittled down to one.
The first match pitted O’Sullivan against Milkins. Milkins won his first ranking title last year at the 2022 Gibraltar Open, while O’Sullivan – who came into the match the firm favourite – won the 2021 World Grand Prix, and this year’s World Championship and Hong Kong Masters. Milkins had first chance – O’Sullivan left him a red after a misjudged safety, from which he made an 81. The next frame, O’Sullivan found a mid-range red, and he made an 81 to level.
Milkins had a chance in frame three, but his pots ran increasingly out of position, and eventually O’Sullivan came back to the table. He fluked a red when he messed up a safety, but he converted that into a 60 break to win the frame. A split on the pack went wrong for O’Sullivan – he potted a phenomenal pink, but couldn’t find another red – Milkins made a 102 to level. A safety battle gave O’Sullivan a chance in frame five, and he made a great 63 on a difficult table, and a poor safety in frame six would be Milkins’ last shot – O’Sullivan produced a 131 to win 4-2 and book his place in the quarter-final.
Then it was Zhao against Mink – the former the 2021 UK Championship and 2022 German Masters winner, the latter the winner of the 2022 Women’s World Championship. Both players struggled to get going in a bitty first frame, but it eventually went the way of Zhao. Mink seized the opportunity to construct a break of 51 in frame two – Zhao had a chance to steal, but the scoreboard was soon at 1-1. The third frame was a nervy one, both players missing simple shots and chances, but Zhao eventually stole it on the final pink.
O’Sullivan obliged with a 108 to win the match 6-1 and set up a semi-final clash with Fan Zhengyi
Zhao suddenly turned up in frame four, swiftly making a century break of 132 to move within one of victory. The fifth frame came down to the colours again, with Mink keeping her hopes alive after potting the final black. Mink made 47 to keep the pressure on Zhao – she had an opportunity, but she missed match-blue ball. Zhao responded by clearing the colours, potting the final black to win a mostly poor-quality match 4-2.
So O’Sullivan would face Zhao, and the Chinese player needed to up his game. It didn’t look like it was happening pre-interval – O’Sullivan left an opportunity in frame one after compiling a modest break, but Zhao could only make seven in response, and the world champion put the first frame on the board. Again, he had a chance in frame two as O’Sullivan left the table on 52, but he made 29 before missing a comparatively simple black. It was three in a row as O’Sullivan made 129. Frame four saw O’Sullivan make 60 before leaving Zhao an awkward table blocked by the yellow – a later safety error gave Zhao a chance to get back into the frame, but it wasn’t to be. He missed a tough red along the cushion by a long way, and it gave O’Sullivan a 4-0 lead at the interval.
It looked like O’Sullivan would further extend his lead as he put 38 on the board, only to miss a red with the rest. Zhao had a chance – he needed to take it, and he did, making a clearance of 92 to put his first frame on the board. He had first chance in frame six, but he made six before missing a simple red and leaving it over the pocket – O’Sullivan responded with 94 to move within one of victory. A good long pot off the break gave Zhao first chance, but he made nine before missing the black – at that point, it was as good as over, and O’Sullivan obliged with a 108 to win the match 6-1 and set up a semi-final clash with Fan Zhengyi.