Ronnie O'Sullivan was ‘embarrassed’ to be at the table with Ding Junhui but fought back from feeling ‘useless’ to book a 78th ranking event semi-final at the Northern Ireland Open, writes Will Jennings.
The six-time world champion was on the receiving end of a Ding onslaught during the opening two frames but four half-century breaks capped a roaring 5-2 comeback in Milton Keynes.
Ding’s cue ball control is the best in the business and the Rocket could only sit back in awe before recovering and sealing a date with old foe Ali Carter in the last four.
The world No.2 said: “He came out flying – his positional play was unbelievable and the first two breaks and frames I just thought he was going to pump me 5-0.
“He wasn’t out of position once. You wonder why he hasn’t won numerous world titles. I literally felt useless out there – I felt embarrassed because my position was okay but compared to him it was amateurish.
“You start to feel a bit embarrassed out there sometimes because you can’t play to the sort of level he was playing at.
“Then he just started to miss a few and I dragged him down to my level! I had to be patient and I wasn’t scoring great.
“I’m enjoying it – even though I was getting battered out there and Ding was potting it I thought it was lovely to watch. I don’t think anyone’s ever had as good a cue ball as Ding, so you have to admire that.
“Some of those shots and breaks in the first two frames – if he could play like that 70 per cent of the time, he would just destroy most people.”
The world No.10 opened up with masterful breaks of 121 and 87 to open up a rapid 2-0 lead at the Marshall Arena.
But 37-time ranking event winner O’Sullivan rolled back the years as visits of 58 and 59 restored parity at the mid-session interval.
The break suited the Rocket, 44, down to the ground and he finished the job in style as efforts of 70 and 79 booked that clash with Carter.
O’Sullivan and Carter, the current world No.19, infamously clashed at the 2018 World Championship as the pair shoulder-barged each other in a heated exchange.
Four-time ranking event winner Carter edged that last 16 match 13-9 in a Crucible classic that left a sour taste.
The Essex rivals have never met since and O’Sullivan, who has beaten Carter on 16 of the 18 occasions they’ve played each other, says he’s up for a scrap on semi-final Saturday.
“That was a proper match for me out there. Mark Allen was a proper match and I felt like I had to be on my game – he gave me a good drubbing [in the Champion of Champions] – and tonight was a proper game,” he added.
“Matthew Stevens felt like I really had to be on it, and it’s no different with Ali. I’m going to have to really play well – I might take a bit of a beating for a while but I’ve just got to stay patient and it’s first to six. If I’m 5-1 down there are still frames to play.”