SNOOKER: O'Sullivan ends barren spell in style

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The Independent Online
RONNIE O'SULLIVAN brought an end to the most barren spell of his career by taking the China Open title here yesterday.

O'Sullivan collected a first prize of pounds 50,000 and ended 14 months without a trophy with his 9-2 victory over Stephen Lee, who had beaten the world champion, Stephen Hendry, in the semi-finals. He also became the first Englishman to win a ranking event since Lee won the Grand Prix in October 1998.

"When you haven't won a tournament for a while your confidence suffers so this is a big boost for me," O'Sullivan said. "It's only in the past two or three weeks that I've been playing half decent. Before that I was really struggling, even though I was putting in the work. This kind of thing gives you the incentive to carry on practising hard.

"Now I can chill out over Christmas and go into the New Year with a tournament under my belt."

After squeezing past Brian Morgan 6-5 in the semi-finals, O'Sullivan claimed that his form was not "good enough to beat an egg". But the 24- year-old, without any silverware since last season's Regal Masters, was superb throughout the final as he finished a frustrating year on a positive note.

There was nothing in the opening two frames to suggest that O'Sullivan would pull away in such inspirational fashion. However, over the course of the following six frames, he outscored an increasingly demoralised Lee 610-93, to end the first session 7-1 up.

During this purple patch O'Sullivan - who was playing exclusively right- handed, unlike in previous rounds - compiled breaks of 87, 40, 41, 68, 75, 115 and 124. Those last two efforts carried his total of centuries this season to 23, two more than Hendry.

"I didn't play left-handed for a reason," O'Sullivan explained. "I can afford to do it against lower-ranked players, it helps me concentrate, but I didn't want to lose any rhythm against someone as good as Stephen."

Lee delayed the inevitable by winning the ninth frame, but it was a temporary respite, O'Sullivan arriving at the finishing post with further contributions of 42 and 56.

Lee, beaten in six of his seven meetings with O'Sullivan, said: "I'm disappointed with the way I played and Ronnie jumped on most of my mistakes. I didn't feel part of the game but I can't take anything away from him. At times Ronnie played some super snooker."

This success earned the seventh world-ranking title of O'Sullivan's career and his first since the Scottish Open in Aberdeen almost two years ago. Including invitation events, he has now won 15 tournaments as a professional.