Ronnie O’Sullivan set up a mouth-watering semi-final with his fellow crowd-pleaser Jimmy White at the Rileys Club Masters by blasting past Chinese teenager Ding Jun Hui on Friday night.
O’Sullivan, the champion at Wembley ten years ago, fired in a string of sizeable breaks after falling 2-1 behind to Ding, who at 17 had become the youngest-ever Masters quarter-finalist.
The world champion admitted his 6-2 victory was more comfortable than he might have expected against a player he clearly rates highly.
“When you have two players capable of scoring heavily then there’s the danger one of them could run away with the game and Ding could have done the same to me,” O’Sullivan said.
“Technically, he’s as good as anybody in the game, including Stephen Hendry and John Higgins, but he could do with someone like Ray Reardon or Dennis Taylor in his corner, someone who has a bit of craft and experience so that he’ll get there a bit quicker.
“But I’ve no doubt he’ll be a champion one day and will be winning tournaments, which will be great for the game.”
O’Sullivan took the opening frame before Ding, responsible for the exits of top 16 professionals Marco Fu and Ken Doherty earlier in the event, compiled breaks of 63 and 84 to lead 2-1.
But snooker’s latest star of the future was outplayed for the remainder of the match as O’Sullivan engaged a higher gear.
The 29-year-old, winner this season of the Totesport Grand Prix and Welsh Open, fashioned runs of 77, 92, 123 and 67 to lead 5-2.
And O’Sullivan secured the eighth frame in three scoring visits to reach the semi-finals of the Masters for the fifth time in his career.
O’Sullivan has played White, who edged Mark Williams 6-5, on three previous occasions at Wembley and trails 2-1 to the 42-year-old Londoner at the game’s largest venue.
Last year, O’Sullivan won their semi-final 6-4 before losing the final 10-9 to Paul Hunter from 7-2 up having previously fallen at the last hurdle in 1996 and 1997.
“You play the game to get through to the later stages and it’s very exciting to play Jimmy,” said O’Sullivan, beaten by White in their last meeting in this season’s Betfred Premier League.
“You have to make sure you get your tactics right and stay in the right frame of mind.”
Ding could be contented with a cheque for £15,000, easily the highest of his short professional career.