Ronnie O'Sullivan hit scintillating form yesterday to earn a quarter-final place in the World Championship with a brilliant 147. It was the ninth competitive maximum of his career, setting a record, and sealed a 13-7 win over Mark Williams.
If the 32-year-old O'Sullivan can maintain anything like this standard of play until the end of the tournament, it is hard to imagine anyone preventing him adding a third title to those he won in 2001 and 2004.
His next opponent, Liang Wenbo, might argue with that, if only because the Chinese 21-year-old left-hander has shown quality in abundance, and astonishing nerve, in making the last eight on his debut at the Crucible. He obliterated former champion Ken Doherty in the first round and last night, having missed a pot for the match at 12-9, kept calm to complete a 13-12 win over Joe Swail after an agonising decider which both men looked certain to win several times.
O'Sullivan's maximum was achieved with some astonishing shots, the highlight being a cannon to free the penultimate red from a blocking pink after a powerful pot on the 13th black.
O'Sullivan punched the air after sinking the final ball. The 147 not only earns him £157,000 (£147,000 for a 147, plus £10,000 for the tournament's highest break) but makes him the sole record holder for competitive 147s.
Before yesterday, O'Sullivan had made eight career maximums, the same number as the seven-times former champion, Stephen Hendry, who he could yet meet in this year's semi-finals. "Only £157,000? I thought it was more," joked O'Sullivan afterwards. "Still, it gives me a few more choices in the summer." He said he will spend the money on a Bentley GT convertible. "It's never going to be easy against someone [who has been dominant] from the same era," O'Sullivan said. "I know Mark [champion in 2000 and 2003] is going through a lean spell, but we've had so many tough matches and I always give him maximum respect."
O'Sullivan claimed afterwards that he thought he would lose. "I expected Mark to really make it count because he's a big game player," he said. "I had packed my bags because I thought it was one of those games that was going to get away from me."
Instead, having started with an overnight lead of 9-7, O'Sullivan won all four frames played with breaks of 71, 60, 100 and then the 147, only the seventh maximum in Crucible history, three by O'Sullivan.
"I've had three [in tournaments] this season which is great, they are a real adrenaline buzz, great for the fans and TV," he said. "I might not be everyone's cup of tea but I'm pleased I can give back to the game."
Defeat for Williams means he drops out of the world's top 16 and must return to qualifying for ranking tournaments next season. O'Sullivan said, ominously, he has rarely felt more confident. "I'm keeping my discipline and being patient."
Stephen Maguire completed a 13-7 second-round win over Neil Robertson. Robertson had numerous excuses, including watching Chelsea take on Manchester United on Saturday before his match.
The Chelsea fan said: "It was 1-1 with 15 minutes left and I went from being very calm to heading every ball. I completely lost my focus and was caught off guard."
The Rocket's maximums
Ronnie O'Sullivan hit his ninth competitive 147, a record, yesterday. O'Sullivan has scored the five fastest 147s, including his first, in 1997, which remains the quickest at 5mins 20sec.
Rocket Ronnie's world-record nine 147s
April 1997: v Mick Price, World Championship
Jan 1999: v James Wattana, Regal Welsh Open
Oct 1999: v Graeme Dott, Grand Prix
April 2000: v Quinten Hann, Regal Scottish Open
Oct 2001: v Drew Henry, LG Cup
April 2003: v Marco Fu, World Championship
Nov 2007: v Ali Carter, Northern Ireland Trophy
Dec 2007: v Mark Selby, UK Championship
April 2008: v Mark Williams, World Championship
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