Two-time Crucible champion Ronnie O’Sullivan is on the brink of defeat at the 888.com World Championship today after a stunning second session from John Higgins left ’the Rocket’ 11-5 behind.
Resuming at 4-4, the 1998 Sheffield winner took seven of the morning’s eight quarter-final frames, making five 50-plus breaks to take an 11-5 lead when they play to a finish this evening.
The Scot cruised to all four frames before the interval, posting breaks of 53 and 71 along the way, before O’Sullivan pulled one back with a run of 75 in the 13th.
But the Wizard of Wishaw took all three of the remaining frames – including two stolen on the black – to leave O’Sullivan needing a stunning comeback.
That is exactly what Shaun Murphy achieved, however, when he became the first ever player to overhaul an 11-5 a deficit in a best of 25 frames encounter.
The 2005 champion produced one of the greatest Crucible comebacks, posting breaks of 92, 63, 61 and 94 along the way to defeating Welshman Matthew Stevens 13-12 in their quarter-final.
He admitted afterwards he was as surprised as anyone to be in the last four, saying: “I never truly believed I could win the match.
“I’m obviously stunned, I can’t believe it.
“At 12-7 I started to think I could win because it’s no secret that Matthew doesn’t like leading and I knew that if I could start to win a couple more frames it would start to shake him a little bit.
“I knew that if I could just put the pressure on him he might wander and fortunately for me it did.”
As if defeat alone was not enough to stomach, the result means Stevens now drops out of the top 16 meaning he will have to qualify for next season’s tournament.
The Welshman said: “I’m still in shock. I had the game won at 11-5. What can you say?
“I got a few chances along the way. I should have won 13-7.”
Former UK champion Stephen Maguire hardly gave Nottingham’s Anthony Hamilton a shot as he booked his semi-final spot with minimal fuss.
The Scot took exactly an hour to wrap up the four frames required for victory, recording ruthless runs of 96, 137 and 108 along the way to a 13-7 win over the world number 16.
“He never got a chance at all,” Maguire said.
“ I decided to open the balls up and have a go for the first few frames because I had a two-frame gap.”
And the number nine seed believes he is finally starting to feel like his old self, having spent the last 18 months living in the shadow of his UK triumph.
He added: “I’m not doing anything different. Snooker is just a game of confidence and mental strength.
“After the UK a lot of the boys played well against me and beat me and I didn’t take it well – you start to lose confidence and start play badly as a result of that.
“This season I’ve had a lot of good results, although I’ve not won a trophy but I’ve not lost a first-round match which has helped my ranking – it’s just a block of things coming together.”
Hamilton admitted the better man had won after making his fourth Crucible quarter-final exit.
“He was better all the way through the match,” he said. “When he’s playing well he’s as good as anyone.”