In just 53 breathtaking minutes yesterday, Ronnie O’Sullivan demonstrated his extraordinary natural genius for snooker by completing the fastest ever best of 11 frame victory in defeating Dominic Dale 6-0 to reach the Northern Ireland Trophy final at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast.
The previous record was set by Stephen Hendry, who needed only 71 minutes to beat Dave Harold in the 1993 International Open semi-finals. O’Sullivan also beat his own personal best of 73 minutes, which he set at last year’s Premier League final against Mark Williams.
Against Dale, he oozed class from the start, accounting for the first frame with breaks of 65 and 64. At ten minutes, 42 seconds, this proved to be the longest of the contest.
Welshman Dale, ranked 40th in the world, had beaten last season’s 888.com World Championship finalists, Peter Ebdon and Graeme Dott, en route to the semi-finals but failed to put O’Sullivan under any sort of pressure. His highest break was just 12 in the second frame and when he broke down, O’Sullivan stepped in with an 84 for 2-0.
Just under nine minutes later it was 3-0 courtesy of a 75 and Dale failed to pot a ball in the fourth as O’Sullivan secured it through runs of 63 and 67. A fluid 106 made it 5-0 before he clinched the sixth in just five minutes with a 63, outpointing Dale 608-29.
If O’Sullivan played like this all the time he would never lose but throughout his career he has struggled intermittently with his state of mind. In years gone by he would frequently threaten retirement while the day before last year’s Grand Prix final he announced he would rather be at home gardening.
However, a recent excursion to America for an 8-ball pool tournament has opened his eyes to a different, more glitzy approach.
“I’m very conscious that snooker needs to be watched by people and I want to play a game that people want to watch and that’s by being open and entertaining so that they buy a ticket and come back,” O’Sullivan said.
There will certainly be a few takers for today’s best of 17 frames final when O’Sullivan plays Ding Jun Hui, the 19 year-old Chinese prodigy who won last season’s UK Championship.
Ding played sublimely on his way to defeating Stephen Lee 6-1 last night, although he enjoyed a huge slice of luck when he fluked the blue out of a snooker in the fifth frame, adding a difficult pink to lead 4-1. He closed out victory with breaks of 67 and 73, having earlier constructed efforts of 72 and 81.
A shy teenager, he knows more English than he is willing to speak at post match press conferences, but it was apparent he is looking forward to playing O’Sullivan, his snooker hero.
“I have to forget anything else about him and just play the match,” Ding said. “I like him. He’s a very good player.”
They have only previously played on two occasions. O’Sullivan won 6-1 in their 2005 Masters quarter-final while their meeting in last year’s Betfred Premier League ended in a 3-3 draw.