O'Sullivan closes in on fourth final

Ronnie O'Sullivan has never lost in a final of the Betfred.com World Championship and a fourth appearance in the showpiece match of the snooker season is in his sights this morning.

Stephen Hendry might have headed into retirement as the sport's greatest champion of the modern era, but O'Sullivan has been its greatest draw card for over a decade.

Having added mental resilience to the formidable game he has always possessed, O'Sullivan has looked unstoppable in the past fortnight.

Now the red-hot tournament favourite, he trampled over Matthew Stevens' hopes in a six-frame winning burst yesterday to build an 11-5 overnight lead.

They were resuming this morning, with eight frames to be played in the session and a further nine scheduled for this evening. Given how O'Sullivan played yesterday, Stevens will be doing well to remain in the tournament by mid-afternoon.

The 36-year-old three-time world champion treated a rapt audience to breaks of 61, 62, 110, 98, 90 and 113, clicking into the form which has seen him tear past three former world champions in Sheffield.

Peter Ebdon, Mark Williams and Neil Robertson had no answer to O'Sullivan's brilliance in the earlier rounds, and although Stevens was briefly level yesterday, having started 5-3 in arrears, trouble soon began to mount for the man from Carmarthen.

Stevens knew the challenge before him, having seen his fellow Welshman Mark Williams hit with a six-frame assault last Sunday.

As Stevens admitted before tackling O'Sullivan: "On the form he showed in that second session against Mark Williams, no-one can beat him."

Ali Carter was considering retirement at the turn of the year, as he struggled badly with Crohn's disease, a bowel condition, but now a second appearance in the World Championship final beckons for the 32-year-old from Tiptree.

If O'Sullivan and Carter come through, it would mean a repeat of the 2008 final line-up.

Carter led Stephen Maguire 14-10 overnight after dominating a large part of their two sessions yesterday.

The final three frames of the day went Maguire's way though as he belatedly found some mental poise, but the Scot still faced a tall order in their final session this afternoon. Maguire had a 142 break yesterday and Carter a 134.

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