Peter Ebdon could only sit and watch a Ronnie O’Sullivan masterclass today - and admitted he was privileged to be sharing a table with the ’Rocket’.
O’Sullivan seized control of their Embassy World Championship quarter-final from the outset, ending the first session with a 6-2 lead after an awesome display of break-building which he made look ridiculously easy.
A fluked red set in motion a frame-winning 71 in the opener but that was the only stroke of luck involved as the world number one added further contributions of 137, 101, 79 and 71 to build a healthy advantage.
Even though O’Sullivan continually talks of retiring in a year or two because he is not happy with his game, performances like this put him on a different level to all his rivals.
And while Ebdon has plenty of work to do tomorrow to avoid a fifth defeat in seven meetings with the defending champion, he acknowledges snooker would be much the poorer if O’Sullivan did walk away from the sport.
“I just hope Ronnie can stay as sharp as he has been and that he will be okay,” said the 2002 world champion.
“I don’t know how seriously to take what he has been saying but I don’t want anything to happen to him – he’s an absolute genius.
“Snooker needs Ronnie. He is a big personality and I feel very honoured to be competing against him in this era, and for me to occasionally win tournaments when he is around is wonderful.
“Ronnie is an inspirational character. The standard of his game when he beat John Higgins 10-3 in this season’s Masters final was as close to perfection as you will see.
“I’ve had some right beatings off Stephen Hendry but I can’t believe anyone has played better than Ronnie did at Wembley – he only missed three balls in 13 frames.
“He looks awesome physically too – like a greyhound – and has put the work in so he deserves everything he gets. He is a highly trained athlete and I have the utmost respect for him.”
Earlier, Shaun Murphy, fresh from a brilliant display against John Higgins, maintained that terrific form in his quarter-final against Steve Davis at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.
The 22-year-old Rotherham-based player, a 150-1 outsider at the start of the tournament, raced into a 7-1 lead to already be halfway towards the 13 frames he needs to clinch a surprise place in the last four.
Against Higgins, whom he beat 13-8, the most impressive aspect of Murphy’s performance was his long potting and that was the case again today as his opponent’s renowned safety play failed to subdue him.
The world number 48 knocked in breaks of 82, 72 and 58 twice, six times former champion Davis looking out of sorts having missed several easy chances to make a sizeable contribution of his own.
But Murphy will be aware the 13th seed staged a magnificent fightback from 8-2 down to beat Michael Holt in the previous round.
On the other table Stephen Hendry, who succeeded Davis as the game’s dominant force, was 5-1 adrift of Matthew Stevens before winning the final two frames of their opening session.
Hendry, holder of a record seven world titles, struggled badly until compiling a couple of half-centuries which kept him touch with the Welshman, who was runner-up to compatriot Mark Williams in 2000.
In the other quarter-final Alan McManus doubled a respotted black to move 5-3 ahead of Ian McCulloch – conqueror of Williams in a nailbiting deciding frame last night – having won five on the spin from 3-0 down.