Ronnie O’Sullivan still in peril as Barry Hawkins stays out in front

Ronnie O’Sullivan remained in deep trouble and at risk of his earliest Betfred World Championship exit since 2009 after Barry Hawkins clung to his lead in their gripping second-round clash.
Ronnie O’Sullivan still in peril as Barry Hawkins stays out in front

From 5-3 ahead, Hawkins split yesterday’s eight frames with the title favourite to nudge 9-7 in front, needing four more for victory when the match reaches its climax this afternoon.

Breaks of 68, 118, 82 and 89 from O’Sullivan showed he is scoring well enough — he also had 139, 88 and 103 on Saturday — but Hawkins has clawed his way in front and is fighting to stay there.

Hawkins held his nerve in a tense and deeply tactical final frame of yesterday’s session, after making three errors in the previous two that had allowed O’Sullivan to cut his deficit from 8-5 to 8-7, and taking that could prove critical.

O’Sullivan has reached the quarter-finals or better in each of the last six years.

A girl in the front row wore an ‘I Love Ronnie’ T-shirt, and the sense within the arena was that the crowd expected a guns-blazing O’Sullivan fightback.

Perhaps most spectators in Sheffield had come to see O’Sullivan pot balls, and make centuries, but they gradually warmed to his opponent, a left-hander with a no-frills but effective game.

Early in the first frame of the afternoon, O’Sullivan lanced a terrific opening long red and made 68 but then lost position, played the wrong shot and played it poorly, and Hawkins had a let-off.

From almost the point of no return, the 37-year-old hauled himself back into the frame and won it, an early dagger to the heart for O’Sullivan.

A third century of the match from O’Sullivan settled him, and they split the next two before the interval.

Tickets for the final have been changing hands for upwards of £700, caused no doubt by the O’Sullivan factor.

To lose him at this stage might be considered a blow to the tournament, and he came roaring back after Hawkins swiped the first frame after the mid-session interval with a 65 break.

Momentum was with O’Sullivan heading into the final frame of the afternoon, but safety play let him down, as it repeatedly had done in the frames that Hawkins won, and runs of 41 and 27 saw the two-frame gap re-established.

John Higgins carved out a 10-6 lead over Ricky Walden on the other table, putting the four-time world champion in a strong position to clinch a quarter-final clash against fellow Scot Alan McManus.

Kyren Wilson holds an 11-5 lead over Antrim’s Mark Allen 11-5 overnight, while last year’s semi-finalist Judd Trump trailed China’s Ding Junhui 10-5.

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