Patience key to off-colour Ronnie's bid for World snooker domination
21:54 GMT, 1 May 2012
Winning ugly has never been the Ronnie O'Sullivan way but it may be his only course of action if he is to overcome the obdurate Neil Robertson and reach his first Betfred.com World Snooker Championship semi-final in four years.
The Rocket spluttered in their opening session on Tuesday, in contrast to his smooth running thus far. He trails Robertson 5-3 going into the decisive frames.
The sanguine expression which accompanied majestic O'Sullivan play in his opening two matches was replaced by grimaces, gurns and quiet growls as routine pots were missed – to gasps of disappointment among the Crucible audience.
Testing times: O'Sullivan has a real battle on his hands against Robertson
In truth, Robertson was less than stellar himself, an indication of the mutual respect which exists between the pair and the gnawing feeling inside both men that they were facing their hardest remaining opponent in this championship.
Whoever emerges victorious this evening will become overwhelming favourite to lift the world title again. For O'Sullivan it would be a fourth triumph, for Robertson a second.
The safety exchange which preceded the Australian potting the first red of the match was a five-minute-40-second study in tactical brilliance, each man pinning the white ball to the baulk cushion and with it his opponent on the defensive.
Where they both tripped up too regularly was in their attacking play, drifting out of position, casting wistful glances at the table and taking to their seats without having notched up another frame.
Aussie rules: Robertson has taken an early lead int he battle for semi berth
The exceptional frames which proved that
particular rule contained a break of exactly 100 for each player,
classy reminders of the brilliance into which this contest might
What will be essential is O'Sullivan's
ability to adhere to the teachings of his sports psychologist guru Dr
Steve Peters, the man whose words of wisdom are regarded as gospel by
Britain's all-conquering cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy.
Peters' talent is freeing the mind and
offering it a means of diverting negative thought so that it does not
interfere with clarity and sound judgment.
For O'Sullivan, who has struggled with his focus and enjoyment of the sport in the past, that is a central principle.
Plenty to ponder: O'Sullivan is chasing his fourth title
He said: 'The tournament lasts 17 days so you can't expect to play well every day, but I came into this tournament feeling happy and content and just wanting to go out there and enjoy my game.
'As long as I do that, then it's a throw of the dice sometimes how you play. It's nice if sixes come, but now and again a one and a two might show up and you've got to be patient and not be too down on yourself.
'I've been getting help on that side with Dr Steve Peters and if it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't be here this year. I was having a terrible time, but he's got me thinking differently. I'm a lot happier and I'm managing my emotions a lot better, which is the key for me.'
The glimpses of frustration yesterday were fleeting and not frame-changing. In the seventh frame the Rocket needed two snookers, only to find himself scuppered by a lucky ricochet from Robertson.
O'Sullivan surveyed the table in an instant, didn't fancy the challenge and scooped the white with the side of his cue to concede the frame. For Jamie Jones, the 24-year-old Welsh qualifier who beat O'Sullivan in an exhibition frame as a 13-year-old, stamina will be more important than strength of mind.
Having never appeared at the Crucible before this tournament, Jones enters the arena for the seventh time this morning trailing Ali Carter 5-3.
He said: 'You're going to have to scrape me off the table. I'm going to be there until the death hopefully.'