Snooker: O'Sullivan suffers for loss of concentration

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The Independent Online
IT CANNOT be easy having your concentration on a hair trigger. One minute you are washing up, the next you have been diverted on a night out, which, if nothing else, makes the Marigolds hard to explain. Such is the fate of Ronnie O'Sullivan.

If God felt inclined to pick a snooker team, O'Sullivan would be in it. The man could pot where others can only ponder but the sad thing is he would be first reserve for the celestial mind wanderers, too. As a consequence he trails John Higgins 12-4 after two sessions of their Embassy World Championship semi-final.

It was an afternoon where, if you were part of O'Sullivan's back-up team, you would have been tempted to run out into the arena and give your man a thorough shaking to wake him up. In every frame he got in amongst the balls and on each occasion a slip would betray him. Higgins, who got better as the story repeated itself, could barely believe his good fortune.

Eight frames lost in succession. O'Sullivan should not do that if he was playing left-handed - which he is capable of. Higgins was brilliant, O'Sullivan so bad you wonder about his fate in the game. The theory is that he has too much of a grip on himself to overtake Jimmy White as the best player never to win the world championship, but yesterday you were not so sure.

"Concentration isn't the strongest part of my game," O'Sullivan said before the match, "and when I get a big lead I let opponents back in sometimes. I've got to learn to finish people off."

Yesterday a big lead would have been a luxury. Level at 4-4 from Thursday, the need was to make sure you picked up at least your share of frames. Nothing fancy, just an accumulation job and anything else is a bonus. Higgins, as clinical as a syringe, understood; the notion appeared to have passed O'Sullivan by.

In the first frame of the day the 22-year-old Londoner missed a green to allow Higgins to feast on the colours, in the next he was 51-0, got a kick to go out of position and, a missed black later, his opponent was on his way to making the score 6-4.

"I've played John a lot of times and every time he has beaten me I haven't played well enough," O'Sullivan said. "He's similar to Stephen Hendry, very consistent. He never lets his game drop below a certain standard. I'm going to have to play better against him than I have against any other player so far in the tournament."

Some chance. You are reluctant to accuse players of losing the will to try but by the end O'Sullivan was exhibiting all the signs. Shots he would flick in with barely a thought in practice were acute angles out in execution, his face pale with demoralised shock. The Rocket, who salvaged only two points in the last four frames, had run out of fuel.

Meanwhile Higgins rolled on remorselessly, ending with breaks of 79, 84, 79, 97 and 52. The Scot needs just five out of 17 frames today to reach his first final and such was the psychological wreckage sitting in the opposite chair he could achieve that in this morning's session.

That was a rout. The other semi-final took on an altogether different character as Mark Williams, the world No.4, clawed back from a 6-2 deficit to lead the reigning champion, Ken Doherty 13-11.

At one point Williams won seven frames in a row from 8-5 with a mixture of audacious potting and everything going his way. When Doherty sank the penultimate red in the 20th frame and saw the brown canon into a pocket you feared for the Irishman's good humour but he held himself together to take three of the last four frames.

The pendulum has swung so violently from one side of the table to the other it is hard to guess where it will stop.