Snooker: O'Sullivan steels himself

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The Independent Online

If Ronnie O'Sullivan, the world champion and runaway world No 1, beats Ian McCulloch for the £60,000 first prize in the totesport Grand Prix at the Guild Hall here today, his 16th world ranking title would edge him in front of John Higgins and Mark Williams on the all-time list and leave only Steve Davies (28) and Stephen Hendry (36) ahead of him.

O'Sullivan's 6-3 semi-final win over Paul Hunter was not his most memorable performance but a perverse run of the balls made several frames long and tactical. "When you are both attacking players it can be frustrating when it turns into a grind but you've just got to play the frames and enjoy it. The most important thing is that you stay positive and focused,'' said O'Sullivan, who led 3-1, 4-2, and 5-3 before finishing in style with a break of 107.

For a decade, O'Sullivan has been a great player in spells but there are signs, with his 29th birthday looming, of the maturity and sustained concentration that could see him dominate the circuit as Davies did in the 80's and Hendry in the 90's.

For McCulloch, winning a world ranking tournament in his home town would rank second only to a world title but in his 6-1 semi-final win over the world No 42, Michael Judge, following his victories over Jimmy White, Hendry and the European Open Champion, Stephen McGuire there were early signs that a burden of expectation might undo him.

The 33-year-old dropped the opening frame and was ill at ease until he potted blue and pink from distance in eking out a black ball win in the second. There were signs that he was settling to his customary efficiency as he then went 4-1 up and Judge, showing signs of burn out after a his fine run to the first ever world ranking semi-final of his 12 year career, was simply not able to respond.

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