Ronnie O’Sullivan closed in on a record-equalling sixth Dafabet Masters title by beating Stuart Bingham 6-3 in the semi-finals.
Crowd favourite O’Sullivan now needs to beat Barry Hawkins in the best-of-19 final on Sunday to win the £200,000 top prize and match Stephen Hendry’s six Masters crowns. He is through to his 11th final, extending his own record with Hendry behind him on nine, and he will also be playing a record 63rd match in the tournament.
The Rocket took several months away from competitive snooker at the start of this season but has settled quickly back into the spotlight, just as he did in 2013 when he took a year-long break before winning the World Championship on his comeback. On that occasion he also faced Hawkins in the final, winning 18-12.
The 40-year-old from Chigwell continues to insist that his cue action is hampered by a back problem and that he is “petrified” of playing matches, yet he is producing dazzling snooker in spells. World Champion Bingham, though, is sure to see tonight’s defeat as a missed opportunity as he had chances in nearly every frame.
The contest started well for Basildon’s Bingham as a 63 clearance gave him the opening frame, but he would rue missed pots in each of the next three as O’Sullivan went 3-1 up, making a break of 70 in the fourth. A superb 121 from world number six O’Sullivan extended his lead.
Bingham made a 67 in the next but his opponent knocked in a series of difficult pots to claw his way back then got the snooker he needed on the last red and cleared to go 5-1 ahead.
World number two Bingham potted 11 reds and ten blacks in frame seven before his hopes of a 147 ended when he missed the black on 81. He took the next as well with a 52 to close to 5-3.
Frame nine came down to the last red and O’Sullivan extinguished his opponent’s hopes of a fight back with a typical piece of brilliance. A thumping long pot on the red to a baulk corner set up the chance to clear the table for victory.
“Stuart will feel that was one that got away,” said O’Sullivan. “If he had played the way he did at Sheffield he would have beaten me 6-1. It’s difficult at times because my touch and feel is so bad. I am butchering everything and I feel embarrassed. I’m not sure if it’s my back problem but my body and cue feel disconnected.
“I’m scared of going out there because I’m struggling with my game. I’m petrified, but I’ve got to go and do it. I’m like a golfer who faces a seven foot putt and hits it eight feet past the hole.
“Stephen Hendry should be the man to keep the records. I don’t deserve to be breaking the records that he and Steve Davis set because they were masters of the game. I believe in karma and my back going could be punishment for not focussing on snooker enough over the past two or three years. I’m not the same player I was three years ago.
“Barry Hawkins is scared of no one. If I play like I did tonight I expect him to rip into me and eat me for breakfast. If I play like I did against Mark Selby I’ll have a chance. Mentally I have been good this week and I won’t throw the towel in.”
Bingham said: “I was 3-1 down at the interval and I should have been 3-1 up. When you play Ronnie you have to take your chances. I pulled a couple back but then he potted the last red and cleared up – that’s Ronnie. He looked as if he’d had enough and didn’t care, and it’s hard to play against that because he goes for everything. When he’s sharp he doesn’t go for those type of shots.”