Dynamic duo still on course to clash

Crowd pleasers Ronnie O’Sullivan and Jimmy White are heading for a Rileys Club Masters semi-final showdown.

Crowd pleasers Ronnie O’Sullivan and Jimmy White are heading for a Rileys Club Masters semi-final showdown.

‘Rocket Ron’ joined ‘the Whirlwind’ in the last eight with his 6-3 win over Scotsman Graeme Dott at Wembley yesterday.

But Chinese prospect Ding Junhui stands between O’Sullivan and the penultimate round while White faces the winner of this evening’s last second-round match between Mark Williams and Alan McManus.

And Junhui has extra incentive to prevent the world number one getting any further.

O’Sullivan is considering withdrawing from next month’s China Open, when Ding is one of 16 local players awarded wild cards to help raise the profile of the sport locally.

And his post-match comments after yesterday’s win against Dott did nothing to suggest he’d changed his mind.

He confirmed his partnership with Ray Reardon had been renewed but wouldn’t be asking the six times world champion to fly half way round the world.

“These smaller tournaments are nice to win but I’ll be saving Ray for the bigger ones where I’m really focussed on doing the business,” said O’Sullivan.

“I find it easier to get motivated for events like the Masters, the UK and the World Championship.

“I know I’m there to be shot down because I’m world champion. But I’ve got used to that feeling now.

“It will be just another episode, just another game.”

Williams, twice a Masters champion, brings the second round to a close against 1994 winner McManus.

In fact, McManus ended Stephen Hendry’s five-year reign as King of Wembley with a 9-8 win.

However, both players have struggled this season to produce anything like their best form.

Indeed, Welsh left-hander Williams has dropped to 14th in the provisional world rankings.

It’s a far cry from the 2002-2003 season when he captured snooker’s version of the triple crown – the World, UK and Masters titles.

In doing so he became only the third player after Hendry and Steve Davis to achieve the hat-trick in the same season.

Hendry, who captured the last of his six Wembley crowns in 1996, is second favourite behind O’Sullivan for a £125,000 first prize.

He may not get a better chance of ending his London lean spell after playing superbly 10 days ago to lift the Malta Cup.

And few are tipping him to lose against Stephen Lee at Wembley this afternoon. Awaiting the winner is John Higgins, who knocked out Edinburgh rival Chris Small 6-1 last night.

Small has practised against both and concurs with Higgins that the ’Wizard of Wishaw’ is flying.

“Everyone says how well they’re playing in practice but I have been,” says Higgins.

“I’m definitely coming back into my best form. Losing like I did to Graeme Dott in Malta makes you try even harder when it comes down to the nitty gritty.

“It was a bad, bad loss but it’s out of my system now.”

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