Ebdon has epic edge

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The Independent Online
Five days after he might have been disqualified from the Embassy World Snooker Championship, Ronnie O'Sullivan was knocked out of it yesterday when he lost 16-14 to Peter Ebdon in the semi-finals.

He went out in an appropriate manner given his assault of a press officer last Sunday: fighting hard for his survival. Indeed it is doubtful how much Ebdon will have left for his first final, against the defending champion, Stephen Hendry, after a match that reached epic proportions at times. The spectators were drained, never mind the players.

From 14-14 and with O'Sullivan seemingly in the ascendancy, Ebdon, slowly, painfully, pulled away. Both players made tension-induced errors but the world No 10 held himself together to make a 56 break in the penultimate frame and a 23 in the last after his opponent had missed the final red at 51-45 up.

"I kept coming back at him," said O'Sullivan, who lost his last chance to become the youngest world champion, "but I was never in front and ultimately that told. In the end it was down to long potting. Peter's was really solid while mine was a bit off."

The defeat ended a memorable tournament, good and bad, for O'Sullivan, who could not escape his actions even as he made his way from the dressing room to the stage, running the gauntlet of press cuttings stuck to the wall. The words "bad boy" boomed out from a lot of them.

They did not need amplification. There has been only one real miscreant at the tournament and that has been O'Sullivan. From bad-mouthing opponent Alain Robidoux after his first-round match to assaulting a press officer, the world No 3 has careered round the Crucible littering the place with headlines.

The effect of disgrace on O'Sullivan has been profound. At the midnight press conference following his punishment - a two-year suspended ban and a fine of pounds 20,000 - he was the mumbling personification of contrition, repeating in a low, barely audible voice that he was just glad to be in the tournament.

But if there were many who believed he should have been disqualified, it is undoubtedly true that his actions have increased the profile of the tournament. The BBC revealed yesterday that viewing figures for the first week of the 17-day marathon were up 55 per cent on the corresponding period last year and that was before O'Sullivan attacked on a press officer. The publicity since will not have deterred people from switching on.

Indeed the whole championship seemed to have revolved around the 20-year- old from Chigwell. Once he was in trouble, attention was drawn inevitably to him and the watcher has not been disappointed. In the quarter-final he defeated the second favourite John Higgins 13-12 from being 12-10 down and on Friday night he produced the most electric snooker possible.

Trailing 11-6 to Peter Ebdon his genius took wing, rattling in breaks of 63, 139, 103, 94 and 66. It was pure, uninhibited snooker, the sort normally confined to the practice table. He could barely miss a shot and a wonderful way to complete his 100th competitive century break, a fantastic rate for a player who has been a professional only four years. By comparison Alex Higgins, the self-styled people's champion, has managed only 45 in a career dating back to the early Seventies.

Doing it all again on another day is a different matter, however, and the first frame yesterday was typical. O'Sullivan made a string of errors after opening with a break of 40, allowing Ebdon to take the frame 81- 55. That was the pattern: O'Sullivan had the verve, Ebdon the nerve.

At the end Ebdon grabbed his opponent in a bearhug and told him. "That was the greatest snooker I've ever seen. You are a genius." The match was a credit to both, and to the sport.

His sole surviving rival for thre title, Hendry, moved smoothly into his fifth successive final. He developed his overnight advantage over Nigel Bond from 10-4 to 15-7 in the first session, leaving himself needing only one frame from the evening session to complete his progress to the final.

It was a performance by the champion that typified his time at the Crucible this year. Normally Hendry is steamrolling opponents by this stage, but by his own admission he is blowing hot and cold at the moment, but he was hot enough in the evening, wrapping up victory in only 12 minutes.