Peter Ebdon shed tears of relief as he was potting the last few balls to complete his much more arduous than expected 17-16 semi-final win over Hong Kong's Marco Fu. In today's and tomorrow's final of the World Championship he will play Graeme Dott, who exploited the psychological collapse of Ronnie O'Sullivan to beat him 17-11.
Ebdon had resumed with a commanding 15-9 lead but any expectation that the final session would be little more than a formality was dispelled by a remarkable recovery from Fu which featured breaks of 56, 68, 100, 75 and 103 as he equalised at 15-15.
The 2002 champion's 38 and 35 were the only scores in the next frame and he appeared to be heading for victory until he lost position for the yellow. Forced to a decider, Ebdon's celebrated steeliness held on a difficult red. "I knew if I missed it would be all over," said Ebdon. In fact, he made 54 and trapped Fu into a last mistake with his concluding safety shot .
O'Sullivan can be plagued with insecurities and every so often a mood descends on him which deadens his emotions, impairs his sublime hand-eye co-ordination and shatters his self-belief.
Until he became resigned to his fate in a morning session in which he lost all eight frames, he tried to hold on when there was nothing in him, but by the end could hardly string three pots together and missed some absurdly easy ones.
Dott, who led him 5-0 in their final here two years ago before O'Sullivan prevailed 18-8, had lost 10 of their previous 12 encounters but had seen at first hand in his two wins how O'Sullivan's mind, will and game could unravel. Undistracted by O'Sullivan's problems, Dott maintained a high level of professional ruthlessness.
Resuming at 8-8, the world No 13 made 92 from his first chance, secured a 40-minute tactical second frame and, through a run of 86, led 11-8. O'Sullivan's challenge poignantly disintegrated thereafter as he trailed 16-8 at lunch.
In the evening, it was as if the lights had again been switched on in his mind. Without playing well, he did improve, pulling three frames back before Dott managed to take the next on the black to leave the twice world champion to pull a boy forward from the audience and present him with his cue and case.
"I need a new one," said O'Sullivan blithely in a press conference. "I just wasn't good enough," he added with the cheerful air of someone released from unwelcome pressure.