Ronnie O’Sullivan was whitewashed in a Triple Crown event for the first time in his 30-year career as he lost 6-0 to Ding Junhui in the quarter-finals of the Cazoo UK Championship.
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Rarely in O’Sullivan’s glittering career has he been so severely beaten. He failed to make a break over 50, and scored just four points in the last four frames as Ding ran away with the contest.
As World Champion and world number one, winner of two titles already this season and with seven UK Championship crowns to his name, O’Sullivan was hot favourite for the £250,000 top prize in York, but was completely outplayed today. He made several errors over the first two frames, which allowed Ding to build confidence, and from 2-0 the Chinese ace was unstoppable, making four breaks over 80.
The 35-year-old goes through to Saturday afternoon’s semi-final where he will meet Tom Ford, who beat Joe Perry 6-4. Ding has slipped to 38th in the world rankings but there is no doubting his exceptional talent. He won this tournament in 2005, 2009 and 2019, and is looking to become the only player other than O’Sullivan (seven titles), Steve Davis (six) and Stephen Hendry (five) to lift the trophy on four or more occasions. If Ding or Ford win the title on Sunday, that would also come with a top 16 place and a spot in the Cazoo Masters in January.
The opening frame came down to a safety battle on the green, and Ding played a superb shot to swerve around the blue and pot the green to a baulk corner, setting up a clearance. In frame two, O’Sullivan trailed 50-56 when he missed a tricky pot on the last red to a centre pocket, and his opponent punished him for 2-0. A break of 88 saw Ding extend his lead.
Early in frame four, O’Sullivan had a scoring chance but made just 4 before mis-cueing on a short range red. Ding enjoyed a massive fluke on a red to a centre pocket and capitalised with 94. The 14-time ranking event winner picked up where he left off after the interval with a run of 87 for 5-0, and saved his best until last as he rounded off the contest with a 131.
“I played well, I got my chances and had a bit of luck,” said Sheffield-based Ding. “It’s difficult to play Ronnie, I know when I’m in front he can come back very quickly. But today he didn’t look like he could do it. In the first two frames he missed a lot, and that released a bit of pressure. After the interval I had to keep my focus.
“I want to win but it’s a big thing to say that. I’m just going to get ready for tomorrow’s match. It’s only the semi-finals. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow and all I can do is keep playing well and see what happens
“I’ve got a lot of fans now, a lot of luck. The Chinese students in York support me, and some of our academy players come to watch my game. I’m very happy that they’re here.”
O’Sullivan, who turns 47 next month, said: “It’s great to see Ding play well. He’s a class act. Afterwards I just said to him ‘you played great, go and win it, get the job done.’ I think we’re all Ding fans. Some days you play and it goes great and some days it doesn’t. It was just one of those days, what can you do? Thirty years I’ve been at this game, I’ve taken a few knocks along the way.”
Leicester’s Ford is through to the semi-finals of this event for the second time – the first came in 2018 when he lost 6-1 to O’Sullivan. The 39-year-old has never won a full ranking title so victory this week would be a remarkable time to make that breakthrough. He is into the semi-finals of a ranking event for the seventh time in his 21-year career and first time since the 2021 German Masters.
World number 32 Ford admits that a fragile mentality has held him back in the past, but in recent season he has worked with a sports psychologist and his self belief is clearly more robust. He proved the stronger player in the closing stages today and is now guaranteed a minimum of £50,000.
Ford started strongly with breaks of 103 and 62 for 2-0, then Perry pulled one back with a run of 70. In frame four, Perry led 51-23 when he rattled the penultimate red in the jaws of a baulk corner, and Ford punished him with a 41 clearance to lead 3-1 at the interval.
Back came Perry with 101 and 66 for 3-3, before Ford regained the lead with an 86. Cambridgeshire’s Perry had a scoring chance in frame eight but ran out of position on 25, and Ford took control with a run of 49. Perry later got the snooker he needed on the green, but then missed it to a centre pocket and Ford went 5-3 ahead.
He might have wrapped up the result in frame nine but left the last red in the jaws of a top corner when he led 66-40. Perry cleared for 5-4, but Ford’s 52 helped him dominate frame ten.
“At 3-3 I potted a long red and then something just clicked and I felt really good,” said Ford. “Every time I got in, I just felt like I was going to clear up in one visit. It’s a very strange feeling to have but I felt great, even towards the end. I knew I was going to get over the line as long as I got a chance.
“I’ve been working with (psychologist) Sabrina Francis, she’s been great. In the past, I could miss something and my head would go down but now if I miss something, I’ll forget about it quickly. I’m still going to have lapses where my head can be in the car park, but at the minute my head’s strong and I feel good.
“Ding’s an absolute class act, he always has been. His game has dipped a little bit in the last few years but it looks like he’s back again. It’s going to be a tough match.”
Perry said: “When I won the frame to go 5-4, in days gone by that might have really affected Tom. But he’s a different player these days. He’s matured, he’s worked on the mental side of his game, and he played a great last frame. Jack Lisowski aside, he’s the best player who hasn’t won a tournament yet. He’s been knocking on the door for a long time and I’ve seen a big difference in him mentally. I’ve played some really good stuff in this tournament and it took an inspired Tom Ford to beat me today.”