Matthew Stevens threw himself a lifeline by winning the last two frames of the opening session to prevent Ronnie O’Sullivan from running away with the Failte Ireland Irish Masters final in Dublin today.
Stevens looked set to suffer a thumping defeat when O’Sullivan stormed into a 6-1 lead but the Welshman hit back to end the session only 6-3 in arrears.
However, world champion O’Sullivan was still a huge favourite to take the title, with just four more frames required for his third Irish Masters success in five years.
After Stevens had won the opening frame, O’Sullivan hit top gear as breaks of 57, 61, 51, 74, 87 and 67 gave him a five-frame cushion.
At that point his charge towards a fourth title from this season’s first seven tournaments looked unstoppable.
But world number six Stevens, appearing in his first final since winning the Travis Perkins UK Championship in November 2003, his sole ranking title success, stopped the rot by winning the eighth frame.
And a high pressure 40 clearance in the last of the afternoon kept him in touch for the 57,000 top prize.
Stevens had only reached the final by producing two inspired comebacks earlier in the event.
The 27-year-old from Carmarthen came from 5-3 down to edge Stephen Hendry 6-5 in the quarter-finals before overturning an 8-5 deficit against Robert Milkins into a 9-8 victory.
O’Sullivan, the Irish winner in 2001 and 2003, was attempting to win three ranking titles in a single season for the first time in his career, having already scooped the Totesport Grand Prix and Welsh Open crowns during the current campaign, as well as the non-ranking Rileys Club Masters.