Ronnie O’Sullivan has not seemed like a man in need of a helping hand as he pursues a fourth Betfred.com World Championship title but he benefited from the sportsmanship of Matthew Stevens tonight.
Stevens called a costly foul on himself – one which referee Brendan Moore and O’Sullivan had apparently not spotted – in the second frame of an opening semi-final session from which he came out trailing 5-3.
It was a rare moment worthy of note, another being a fire alarm that sounded in the opening frame, as Stevens and O’Sullivan produced a session to forget.
Welsh potter Stevens, in his first semi-final since 2005, the year that he finished runner-up to Shaun Murphy in his second final, would undoubtedly have taken a 5-3 deficit at the midway point of the session, when he trailed 4-0.
Having dropped the opening frame, Stevens had an early chance in the next.
He potted a red and rather than play a pot looked to run up behind the yellow, near the green spot. He made connection but immediately called a push shot on himself.
O’Sullivan tapped the table in approval of his opponent and benefited from a free ball, compiling a 52 break that gave him a two-frame lead.
Runs to 66 and 49 gave O’Sullivan his four-frame cushion, and without hitting the spectacular form which carried him through to the last four the 36-year-old looked entirely comfortable.
His performance after the interval, therefore, was hard to fathom.
Stevens scraped his way back to 4-2, O’Sullivan took a messy seventh frame, before an 80 from the Carmarthen man kept him well in the match. They resume tomorrow afternoon and are scheduled to play two sessions on Saturday.
O’Sullivan had entered the match with a phlegmatic attitude, having beaten three former world champions already in the tournament, starting with Peter Ebdon, followed by Mark Williams and Neil Robertson.
The mission, O’Sullivan said, was to savour the occasion – the outcome a secondary issue.
“It’s nice to just enjoy the game and play it with a bit of openness. That’s my natural game,” O’Sullivan said.
“As long as I’m cueing well, I feel I can be quite aggressive in the balls and that’s the key. That’s my game to be aggressive.
“I’m just pleased to have had a little run in this. If I get through another match then great – if I don’t it’s no big deal. I’ve had a good go; I’ve enjoyed it.
“There’s more to life. If it falls apart, it falls apart. What can I do about that?”
Ali Carter has vowed to win his battles on and off the table as he closes in on Crucible glory.
The 32-year-old Essex cueman seized a 5-3 lead after the opening session of his semi-final against Stephen Maguire.
Cynical minds might argue theirs is a match where the players are fighting for the right to be beaten by O’Sullivan in the final.
But, like Stevens, Carter is not taking an O’Sullivan triumph as inevitable, and despite suffering a mid-tournament setback in his Crohn’s disease struggle, the 2008 runner-up in Sheffield is determined it will not hold him back over the next four days.
Eating a steak this week left Carter – a slender, otherwise well man – feeling uncomfortably bloated, a symptom of the bowel condition he has had to manage since being diagnosed in 2003.
“Hopefully I can start feeling better if I stick to a lighter diet,” he said. “The problem is that you’re well for a few weeks and then you start taking liberties with it. When you go to a restaurant all you want to do is eat – it’s a nightmare.
“It’s a very long match against Stephen but my problems haven’t beaten me yet and they’re not going to.”
Carter and Maguire return tomorrow for two further eight-frame sessions, before the best-of-33 match concludes on Saturday afternoon.
Carter said: “I’m on a free roll now.
“I’ve been through the mill this past year, considered retirement or taking a sabbatical, and my guts have been terrible.
“I’m just delighted to prove to myself and all the doubters out there that I’ve still got it.”
Carter and Maguire both struggled to find the form which had carried them through to the final four, Carter having knocked out Judd Trump on the way and Maguire having ended the career of Stephen Hendry in the quarter-finals.
Alex Higgins’ daughter Lauren was at the Crucible today, with this year’s championship marking the 30th anniversary of her late father’s second world title triumph. As a baby, she was famously carried on to the theatre floor after her father beat Ray Reardon in the final.
The standard of play in either match would not have impressed the ’Hurricane’.