Ronnie O’Sullivan celebrated his 39th birthday yesterday by taking another step towards his fifth UK crown at the York Barbican.
The world No 4 beat rookie Anthony McGill 6-4 to book his place in today’s semi-finals of the Coral UK Championship.
If O’Sullivan triumphs tomorrow, it would cap an amazing feat of longevity with his breakthrough UK win coming 21 years ago. York is one of three venues at which he has won the UK title – 1993 and 1997 in Preston, a 2001 win at the Barbican, while Telford was the setting for his last victory in 2007.
But O’Sullivan needed two huge birthday ‘gifts’ to emerge victorious yesterday in his quarter-final with world No 38 McGill, the 23-year-old who had his biggest pay day with a £20,000 loser’s cheque.
With the match locked at 3-3, McGill twice had frame-winning positions, only to first miss the yellow in frame seven then the green in frame eight to hand O’Sullivan a 5-3 advantage.
Despite a century from McGill to cut the deficit, O’Sullivan was not to be denied as he set up a last-four showdown with Stuart Bingham, who edged out Graeme Dott 6-5.
“I just love competing,” said O’Sullivan. “I just could not shake Anthony off, he’s a bit like Mark Selby – he has a good all-round game and hits the ball so well.”
O’Sullivan found himself 2-0 down after making a sluggish start and could easily have been 4-0 behind by the mid-session interval.
McGill – who reached the semi-finals of the first European Tour event of the season, the Riga Open – looked assured as breaks of 31, 35, 32 and 55 put him 2-0 up.
The 23-year-old Scotsman looked set for a three-frame advantage, only to break down on a 39 clearance and allow O’Sullivan in to take the frame.
McGill also had his chances in the fourth frame, but a missed red to the centre pocket proved costly as the five-time world champion found some fluidity with breaks of 98 and 125 seeing O’Sullivan edge in front 3-2.
The sixth frame was vital for McGill to stay with his opponent, and he was gifted an amazing reprieve.
O’Sullivan mis-hit the cue ball with the green hanging over the corner pocket, leaving a relieved McGill to clear the table and level the match.
But the real turning point in the match – officiated by Sheffield referee Brendan Moore – came in frame seven. McGill missed a tricky red on a break of 36 to let in O’Sullivan.
But ‘The Rocket’ missed a black, showing his frustration with a swipe of his cue as he stalled on a 57 clearance, and left the Scot with a relatively simple yellow with just the colours remaining.
Maybe it was the shock of seeing the missed black, but McGill committed an even bigger sin by failing to pot the yellow.
O’Sullivan needed no second invitation as he swept up the colours to edge back in front.
It was a mistake from his rookie opponent in frame eight, leaving the green hanging over the pocket as he looked to level the scores at 4-4 on a break of 37, which handed O’Sullivan the eighth frame on a plate.
McGill – whose previous best was a quarter-final spot at last year’s India Open – has shot to prominence in York, knocking out former world champion John Higgins along the way.
And even staring defeat in the face at 5-3, standing just one frame from losing, McGill showed his composure with a classy clearance of 103, his first century of the tournament, just when it mattered most.
But a 97 break from O’Sullivan clinched victory, although the birthday boy was quick to congratulate his opponent, who showed his humility by helping referee Moore clear up the balls at the end of the match.
“He will win tournaments, what a lovely guy” said O’Sullivan. “Snooker is lucky to have him.”
It is a sentiment used numerous times to describe the Essex potter himself.
O’Sullivan first won the UK title as a rookie 17-year-old in 1993 – beating Stephen Hendry 10-6 – but it has been seven years since he was last UK champion, when he thrashed Stephen Maguire in 2007.
Only Hendry (five) and Steve Davis (six) have won more UK titles. With world champion Mark Selby and defending UK champion already out, O’Sullivan is the bookies’ favourite to pocket the £150,000 winner’s cheque tomorrow.
O’Sullivan is now just seven short of Hendry’s all-time record of 775 centuries. “I don’t want to focus on getting records,” he said. “I just want to focus on reaching 800, and that will deal with the record itself.
“I am just enjoying playing, trying to compete, I have got nothing left after that match. I’ve drawn on every bit of experience I’ve got and am delighted to get through.”
Bingham needed to win the final three frames to defeat Dott 6-5 in his quarter-final.
Breaks of 64 and 103 helped the world No 9 – who won the Shanghai Masters earlier this season –to line up an all-Essex semi-final.
Bingham, 38, said: “This is what you dream of, trying to win one of the big ones, and you still class this as one of the big ones. It’d be a dream come true, as they say.”