Snooker: O'Sullivan has the right focus

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RONNIE O'SULLIVAN'S mood has been lurching so violently since he got to the Embassy World Snooker Championship you can never be sure, but if he was not happy after his performance in the quarter-finals yesterday he never will be.

After two sessions with John Parrott, an opponent he has beaten only twice in eight meetings, the third seed leads 11-5 and requires only two frames this morning to reach his second semi-final. Even the mercurial O'Sullivan could not blow it from here. Or could he?

That is the attraction of the 23-year-old from Chigwell, in Essex. Brilliant or careless, you never know which O'Sullivan will emerge from behind the curtains, and the reaction would have been the same if he had trailed 6-2 after yesterday's morning session instead of leading it 6-2.

Equally, he could have dissolved in the evening; instead he took it 5- 3, a statistic that hid a series of maybes because O'Sullivan generates possibilities every time he lines up a shot. He might have recorded a 147 maximum, he might have won with a session to spare, the only surprise he has left is to bore us rigid.

Two years ago O'Sullivan ripped through a 147 at The Crucible in 5min 20sec, winning the pounds 147,000 on offer at a rate of pounds 460 a second. Last night's 12th frame was tardy in comparison, but after 14 reds and 13 blacks it was on until he missed the black off the spot.

While O'Sullivan has claimed to be both depressed and happy since he got to Sheffield, Higgins complained of tiredness beforehand which is just as well because he might have been dangerous if he had been sprightly. As it is those weary limbs are inflicting terrible damage.

The 23-year-old defending champion is so washed out he managed to whitewash the world No. 9, Stephen Lee, 8-0 yesterday and, to paraphrase Alex Ferguson, it is going to take a Devon Loch to stop him now as he requires only five of today's 17 frames to progress to the semi-finals.

Lee, from Trowbridge, is sixth in the provisional rankings for next season but he might have been a no-hoper with a rank corresponding to this season's earnings of nearly pounds 150,000 for all the impression he made on Higgins. A slip and it was over, and not just for one frame but every time he got to the table.

The breaks were remorseless: 69 in the first, 132 in the second, 51, 82, 56, 91 and 63 to bring a remarkable session to a close. The scoring was 763-181 in Higgins' favour.

It was scarcely less gory in the adjoining match, where Stephen Hendry was 5-0 up at one stage against Matthew Stevens and, perfectionist that he is, probably went to bed grumbling that he only had a 6-2 advantage to take into today.

When Graham Taylor was asked to donate a pearl of wisdom to the next England football manager, he used two words. "Don't lose," he replied, and there were echoes after James Wattana had been blitzed off the table by Hendry on Monday night. What advice could he pass on to Stevens? "Just don't miss," the Thai said, and the advice came true in the very first frame of the afternoon. Stevens was entitled to wear a mask when he arrived at The Crucible because his bandit rank of 26 cloaked a rise in the world to 11th and the great things that are predicted for the 21-year-old Welshman looked fully justified when he quickly rattled up a 59-0 lead. One mistake, though, and Hendry had pinched the frame with a break of 71.

Four frames were quickly accumulated and by then the only hint that Hendry had not completed the plumbing to his well of form was that he had not scored a century yet. On cue it arrived with a score of 109.

Results and positions, Digest, page 25