Ronnie O'Sullivan storms into lead in World Snooker Championship semi-final against Barry Hawkins
The 'Rocket' takes a 6 - 2 lead after first session
Ronnie O'Sullivan continued his march towards a third successive World Championship title as he opened up a 6-2 lead over Barry Hawkins in the first session of their semi-final.
The 'Rocket' has played wonderful snooker to win the last two titles at the Crucible, beating Hawkins in last year's final, and since battling from behind to overcome Joe Perry in round two he has again looked the man to beat this year.
He cruised past Shaun Murphy with a session to spare in his quarter-final and similarly clinical as he established his authority by sweeping the frames after the mid-session interval against the world number four on Thursday afternoon.
O'Sullivan was quickly into his stride with a 63 to take the opener but he strangely turned down a long-range plant in the second and Hawkins, who had spoken in the build-up about the need to punish any slip from his opponent, was true to his word with a 96.
A 76 followed in the next as Hawkins took the early lead but the roles were reversed in the frame before the interval as Hawkins missed a long red and O'Sullivan cleared well.
The resumption was cagey as both players appeared to struggle with the table, but O'Sullivan set those worries aside to make a frame-winning 80 after Hawkins missed a red with the rest.
Another tricky missed red from Hawkins let O'Sullivan in in the next and though he could only make 30, Hawkins' response was ended on 40 by a kick and O'Sullivan cleared with 39.
A 108 in the next frame made it 5-2 and he potted a superb opening red in the last frame of the session. He broke down on 30 but Hawkins played a poor positional shot on a pink and later missed a simple red, allowing O'Sullivan to win the frame.
Five great moments from Ronnie
1997: Fastest-ever 147
O'Sullivan's promise had already been brought to the nation's attention by a 147 break at the age of 15 and a UK Championship title success at 17. It was at the Crucible that he really won the nation's hearts, though, effortlessly posting a maximum break in his first-round clash with Mick Price in the astonishing time of five minutes and 20 seconds.
2001: First world title win
O'Sullivan finally cashed in his potential to win the game's biggest prize by beating John Higgins 18-14. A number of near misses left some wondering if the crowd favourite would ever win in Sheffield, but he dispelled all those doubts before dedicating the win to his father, Ronnie Sr, who was then serving a life sentence for murder.
2007: Semi-final maximum
O'Sullivan's UK Championship semi-final with Mark Selby was not high on quality but nonetheless went to a 17th-frame decider. Rather than playing cagey, snooker, though, O'Sullivan thumped in a breathtaking 147 and then admitted: "I cheated a bit really. I had been counting the dots on a spoon to keep focused." He beat Stephen Maguire in the final.
2009: New cue, same result
Forever trying to set himself new challenges to recover his old self, O'Sullivan resorted to smashing up his cue on the eve of the 2009 Masters and set about trying to win the tournament - one of his favourite events - with a brand new cue. "It was fun, I really went to town on it. I wanted an excuse not to play," he said. He achieved his mission, though, beating Selby in the final.
2012: Fourth world title
O'Sullivan entered the year under something of a cloud, with further talk of retirement combined with his ever-sliding ranking. Needing a positive result at the German Masters to avoid having to qualify for the World Championship, he came back from the brink in his first-round clash with Andrew Higginson before going on to take the title with a final win over Maguire. He then maintained his form through to the Worlds, making light work of stellar names such as Mark Williams and Neil Robertson before dismantling Ali Carter in the final.