Ronnie O’Sullivan says he is motivated by the opportunity to “ruin the careers” of his major rivals after he breezed into the ninth UK Championship final of his career with a 6-2 win over Hossein Vafaei in York.
Thirty years after he first won the title as a 17-year-old in 1993, O’Sullivan will face Ding Junhui on Sunday seeking to win a record-extending eighth crown and to shut the Chinese player out from building his own collection of silverware.
“I’m just hanging around so people don’t get as good as a career as me,” joked O’Sullivan, who exploited a series of costly errors from his Iranian opponent to seal by far his most comfortable victory of a gruelling week.
“If I could stop (Mark) Selby winning a few, and Judd (Trump) winning a few, and Ding and (Neil) Robertson winning a few, just ruin their careers a little bit, that would be great. Sometimes that’s just a nice motivation to play.”
The 47-year-old O’Sullivan had laboured through consecutive final-frame deciders against Robert Milkins and Zhou Yuelong, and while he looked more clear-headed throughout their semi-final, his dominance was due in part to an underwhelming performance from Vafaei, for whom errors in five of the six frames won by his opponent served up a disappointingly one-sided encounter.
Vafaei ran aground on a break of 30 in the opener and O’Sullivan swept up with a break of 54 before a 113 in the second frame put him firmly in command. Vafaei showed a glimmer of fight as his eighth century of the tournament started the charge back level, but O’Sullivan took an error-strewn fifth and restored his two-frame lead after Vafaei missed a shockingly easy red to the middle.
O’Sullivan jawed a shot to the same pocket in the next, but a missed black off its spot brought more pain for Vafaei and when he missed the same colour to the top pocket in the eighth frame, the Iranian’s hopes of reaching a first major career final were over.
“I feel as fresh as a daisy,” added a revitalised O’Sullivan. “These tournaments are not a problem. I can do it quite comfortably. I’m still happy to have got this far, it’s great and I have enjoyed my week”
Ding overcame Judd Trump 6-4 in the evening semi-final to seal his final place in York for the second consecutive year. He lost to 10-7 to Mark Allen in last year’s showpiece after leading 6-1 at one stage. Sunday’s clash will see a repeat of last year’s UK quarter-final, when Ding dealt out a rare 6-0 whitewash to O’Sullivan.
In the semi-final, Trump had started well with two centuries in the first eight frames but he could not shake off the dogged Ding, with the pair locked together at 4-4 before Ding nudged through a tense ninth to put himself one frame from victory.
Trump had the first chance to stretch the tie into another decider but jawed a relatively simple red to middle and Ding stepped in with a nerveless 84 clearance to black, including a stunning long red after straying out of position, to seal his swift return in the final.
Ding, who routinely saves his best form for York, admitted such a scenario had seemed impossible when he was ailing midway through his first-round match against Allen. “A lot of fans were watching and I just wanted to finish it – it didn’t matter how well I played, maybe I lost and would go home, I’d just try my best,” he said.
Of his win over Trump, Ding added: “It was a very tough match and the last few reds were a bit scrappy, but to pot that long red and go on to win the frame is saying something to myself. I hadn’t seen myself playing like that for a long time.”