Masters 2006 A

SNOOKER: QUIT? I'LL STILL BE PLAYING SNOOKER WHEN MY DAD GETS OUT OF THE NICK SAYS RONNIE O'SULLIVAN; THE MASTERS: STARTS TOMORROW WEMBLEY

The Mirror
January 14, 2006 Saturday

DARREN LEWIS

RONNIEO'SULLIVAN has staged a U-turn over his threats to quit snooker for pool by insisting he wants to still be playing by the time his dad gets out of prison.
Ron O'Sullivan snr was sentenced to 18 years for murder in 1992. Rumours now persist that he could be eligible for parole shortly.
World No.1 and former world champion O'Sullivan jnr has now revealed that he dreams of playing with his dad in front of an audience.
Speaking ahead of The Masters, which begins at Wembley tomorrow, he told Mirror Sport: "That would be great. I am sure he would enjoy that. It would be nice.
"He has had great enjoyment out of watching me do what I do from where he has been and he will continue to get enjoyment.
"That's what it's about. There will be no-one happier than him if I manage to win this title."
O'Sullivan's return to the green baize comes just three months after he was amazingly booed by fans at Preston's Grand Prix.
That backlash from supporters came because he had lambasted the state of snooker in this country, then threatened to defect to the United States to play pool.
O'Sullivan has revealed that he was left "gutted" by the reaction and insisted that he is committed to the game that has made him a superstar.
He said: "I was kind of a bit gutted when the booing started. It hurt because I am not used to that sort of reception.
"Wherever I go and play I have normally had good support. I think my enthusiasm for the game and the way I play it, normally comes across.
"For example, I was never known in China. But then I go there, I play two matches out in China, then every Chinaman in China wants me to beat Stephen Hendry, who has been out there for the past 10 years!
"So when I get booed it's not because of my snooker, it's because of what I have said.
"When it happened I got home and thought: 'I can't wait to turn this around and show them what I am capable of'. And that's what I intend to do.
"I have got a great opportunity now with the Masters coming up. Sometimes you need that little jolt and hopefully I can answer back in a positive way - by coming back with enthusiasm and winning titles." O'Sullivan kicks off his Masters challenge on Monday when he faces the winner of the first round match between Joe Perry and Ian McCulloch.
He continued: "I love playing the game and I really don't want that to be misinterpreted between some of the things I have said. I can guarantee I will be around for the next 10 or 15 years.
"I might come out and say every so often that I have got the hump, but that's not with the game. It's with the way that I play. It's about my own relationship with myself.
"As far as the game is concerned, my love for it has never been in question. The fans were entitled to say what they said. But when I get out there and I play, I am at one with the game and that's what I will be thinking of when I get to Wembley."
O'Sullivan has also admitted he regrets withdrawing from the Malta Cup, played later this month, in pursuit of his pool dream.
The pool event that he opted for instead was cancelled and, by the time O'Sullivan found out, the Malta Cup qualifiers already had been decided.
It means he will lose out on vital ranking points and only a world title win in April will now guarantee him staying at the No.1 spot as he is set to drop to No.2. He said: "I'm gutted and I don't expect to stay No.1. But you have to learn by your mistakes. I didn't want to enter both the pool and the snooker and breach anybody's rules.
"Then again, though, the way I see it, if I don't stay No.1 I will be the first player to regain it three times after losing it.
"Then again, if I win Sheffield (World Championship) that might not matter. So there are still plenty of goals out there.
"My immediate plan is to go to Wembley and win, then go to Sheffield and win. I was so disappointed that I didn't win there last year. That hurt me a hell of a lot. I intend to put that right."

Ring me Ronnie or your mum will give you a rocket

Simon Hattenstone
Wednesday January 25, 2006
The Guardian

"Well?" Mum says, apropos of nothing. I love that tone in her voice. It can mean only one thing - Ronnie's won. The more upbeat the tone, the bigger the victory. The opposite to "well?" is a thoroughly miserable "oh well", followed by "it's only a game" or "he did well to get this far" or nothing. Nothing is the worst.
Mum and I have an intense relationship with Ronnie O'Sullivan. We take it personally when he loses, we feel let down when he says he's bored with the game, embarrassed when he wears a white flannel over his head and gives the camera the eyes, worried when he shaves his head lobotomy-style, relieved when he wears an I love snooker logo. It's exhausting, our thing with Ronnie.

It wasn't always like this. Actually it was Dad who loved the snooker. He used to sit there for hours on end, watching the balls go down, puffing away at fag after fag, burning hole after hole into the blanket over his knees. As for me, I couldn't be bothered. It seemed deadly dull - if playing snooker was a sign of a wasted youth, what was watching it?
Then I interviewed Ronnie in 2002 and fell for him - he was honest, depressive, compulsive, naive, vulnerable and had a mouth on him that couldn't help get him into trouble. A while after that I agreed to ghostwrite a book for him. One hot summer we sat in my garden talking through his life. Every few minutes we'd stop to try to beat our record at kick-ups (200 or so) or eat some more tuna (we were on a health binge), compare notes on serotonin boosts (anti-depressants or running) or watch football. I knew Ronnie had become family when he used to fall asleep in the lounge mid-conversation, snoring and dribbling on the beanbags while my younger daughter painted his face in lipstick.
That was four years ago. I don't see Ronnie often now. He's a hopeless friend, really - he only phones if you tell his mum that he's not been returning calls, then he rings out of the blue at 1am to tell you he's popping round tomorrow. Sometimes I tell him he's a tosser and I'm never going to ring him again.
But it's all talk. Because Mum and I have got it bad. We know that we'll forgive him pretty much whatever he does. Dad has more or less stopped watching - there's not much point now his sight's gone. But these days Mum is there for every shot.
She phones up midweek. "Well?" she says. Ronnie has just beaten Peter Psycho Ebdon. "D'you think Ronnie really had a stomach ache or just kept going to the loo to get his own back on Ebdon." Amazing - she knows so much about the game now. And she worries about Ronnie as if he was one of her own. Sometimes I think Ronnie means more to her than I do. Then I realise her concern for Ronnie is all about her concern for me.
He beats Stephen Lee 6-5 in the semi. "Well?" Mum says on Saturday morning, drained but exhilarated.
"Did you watch it?" I say.
"No, I couldn't. I thought I'd have a heart attack. I don't know how you bear it. Still he's done us proud, hasn't he?"
Sunday afternoon, I ring her to discuss the final .
"No, I'm not watching. Too stressful."
I tell her that Ronnie has just had amazing breaks of 139 and 138 in successive frames. "I know," she says.
"How come?"
"I keep checking on Teletext. I could do without this, though."
I tell Diane, my lady friend who has issues with sport but a soft spot for Ronnie, about his breaks. She says she's pleased for him but can't understand how sticking balls in holes makes for great sport - I look at her as if she's bonkers. Actually she seems to have defined the essence of most sport.
As it turns out the final between John Higgins and Ronnie shows exactly why it's great - thrilling safety play and bravura potting, culminating in an astonishing final frame. When Ronnie makes a sublime 60, commentator Clive Everton says it has been the greatest Masters final ever. Ronnie needs just one ball. Which he misses. Higgins had a crucial red. It rolls and rolls and stops just short of the middle pocket. That's it, says Clive, game over, the fat lady has sung - and then the ball falls in. Higgins clears up miraculously and, at just gone midnight, he punches the air once, twice, three times. He kisses his wife Denise and hugs his dad John Snr. Ronnie looks ashen.
I speak to Mum first thing Monday morning. "Ah well," she says.
Ronnie, if you are reading this give me a bell - or I'll tell your mum

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Schedule and results of matches

Below is the format of play for the 2006 Masters.

26 Nov 2005 17:05:00
For ticket details call the box office on 0870 060 0870. Alternatively, you can log on www.whatsonwembley.com or visit the Wembley Box Office in person.

Tickets start at £14 and rise to £35 for the evening session of the final. Car parking is free to all ticket holders.
Sunday, 15 January
11am
Match 2 – Steve Davis x Stuart Bingham - 4-6
Not before 2.30pm
Match 8 – Paul Hunter x Mark Williams - 3-6
Not before 7pm
Match 1 – Joe Perry x Ian McCulloch - 3-6

Monday, 16 January
11am
Match 6 – Stephen Maquire x Stephen Lee - 0-6
Not before 2.30pm
Match 3 – Ronnie O’Sullivan x Ian McCulloch - 6-0
Not before 7pm
Match 4 – Peter Ebdon x Stuart Bingham - 6-4

Tuesday, 17 January
1.30pm
Match 7 – Stephen Hendry x Alan McManus - 4-6
6pm
Match 5 – Matthew Stevens x Graeme Dott - 3-6

Wednesday, 18 January
1.30pm
Match 9 – John Higgins x Jimmy White - 6-3
6pm
Match 10 – Shaun Murphy x Ken Doherty - 6-5

Thursday, 19 January
1pm
Match QF2 - Graeme Dott x Stephen Lee - 5-6
6pm
Match QF1 - Ronnie O'Sullivan x Peter Ebdon - 6-2

Friday, 20 January
1.30pm
Match QF4 - John Higgins x Shaun Murphy - 6-4
6pm
Match QF3 - Alan McManus x Mark Williams - 6-4

Saturday, 21 January
1pm
Match SF1 - Ronnie O'Sullivan x Stephen Lee - 6-5
7.30pm
Match SF2 - John Higgins x Alan McManus - 6-2

Sunday, 22 January
2.30pm
Final - Ronnie O'Sullivan x John Higgins
7.30pm
Final

On Sunday, 15 January and Monday 16 January the second match will not start before 2.30 pm. The evening session each day will not start before the time indicated on the format.

All matches up to and including the Semi Finals will be best of 11 frames and the Final will be best of 19 frames (8/11).

Higgins claims Masters thriller

John Higgins beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-9 to win his second Masters title at Wembley and gain revenge for a crushing defeat in last year's final.
The Scot knocked in a brilliant break of 64 to clinch the final frame on the black after O'Sullivan had taken a 60-point lead in the decider.
Higgins beat Ken Doherty 10-8 for his first Masters title in 1999 and was beaten in the 1995 final by O'Sullivan.
Higgins also beat O'Sullivan in the final of the Grand Prix last October.
World number one O'Sullivan looked to be in unbeatable form when he raced into a 3-0 lead in the afternoon session.
He rattled in a 139 break in the second frame, the highest of the tournament, before following up with a clearance of 138.
However, Higgins hit back with a break of 73 in the fourth frame, made it 3-2 with a break of 80 and was level after a scrappy sixth.
Higgins won the seventh after O'Sullivan conceded and made it 5-3 before the interval with runs of 45 and 25.
O'Sullivan replied after the restart with a break of 91 and moved level again with runs of 44 and 56.
However, Higgins quickly re-established his two-frame cushion with breaks of 61 and 68.
O'Sullivan fought back to 7-7 thanks to a 48 break in the 13th frame followed by his third ton of the match.
Higgins then rattled in a 62 break to edge ahead only for O'Sullivan to level at 8-8 with just the black ball left on the table.
O'Sullivan then edged the 17th frame to move 9-8 ahead but Higgins made sure the match went to a final-frame decider with a break of 40.
The final frame saw O'Sullivan pocket a 60 break before he let Higgins back in, only for the 1998 World Champion to miss a red.
O'Sullivan let his opponent in for a second time and this time Higgins held his nerve to win on the black.
R O'Sullivan (Eng) 9-10 J Higgins (Sco)
60-48 139-0 (139) 138-0 (138) 0-73 (73) 0-80 (80) 20-48 27-66 0-71 91-44 (91) 100-30 (56) 0-81 (61) 6-86 (68) 72-46 100-5 (100) 1-71 (62) 62-53 62-53 1-83 60-64 (60, 64)

"This win will stay with me for the rest of my days," said the Wizard of Wishaw, who beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-9 in a sensational conclusion.

"I’ll take the best-ever memories away from this tournament. To beat Ronnie in the final with that clearance in the last frame, I could not have written the script better.

"You can be in the depths of despair and then be totally elated. If you miss the game is over, so I had to concentrate on every ball. It was a brilliant clearance.

"When I got down to the last black I was just shaking, but thankfully I managed to hold my nerve.

"It’s such a fitting finale for everyone, especially for the crowd here. I’m definitely going to enjoy this win for a long, long time. You don’t get them that often because the standard is so high.

"To win the Grand Prix was great, but it’s not as prestigious as the Masters. To beat Ronnie in the last frame on his home turf is amazing.

"Ronnie’s such a fabulous player. At 3-0 down I was thinking I should have just bought a ticket. During the match I was trying to focus on my own game but if you take a step back and watch him he’s fantastic.

"If it had gone 4-0 I thought he would win it, freewheel it. But I made it 3-1 and then felt great after that."

Referring to the slow-rolled red which initiated his match-winning clerance, Higgins added: "I was praying and praying for the ball to go in. I didn’t think it was going in, but I was so relieved to see it drop.

"It was the two best players in the world going head-to-head at one of the best venues. I’m going to party now because I feel I deserve it.

"Ronnie’s given me a few batterings in the past, but I don’t know how he’s going to sleep for the next few weeks.

"He’ll be tossing and turning. I’ve been in those situations before, and it’s not nice. But it just goes to show what a crazy game this is."

O’Sullivan was despondant but gracious in defeat: "I wasn’t good enough at the end of the day. I found it difficult to get any momentum going.

"It’s been a fantastic tournament and great to be part of it. It was a tough match all day long. I’m disappointed not to have won, but John made great clearance in the last frame."

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O'Sullivan faces Higgins in final

Ronnie O'Sullivan will face John Higgins in the Masters final after a thrilling last-frame victory over Stephen Lee.
O'Sullivan came back from three frames down with a straight run of four, including breaks of 75, 50 and 88.
Lee went on to win two more frames before the defending champion eventually claimed the decider 74-1.
In Saturday's all-Scottish second semi-final, Higgins beat Alan McManus 6-2 to earn a showdown with the Rocket.
Leading 5-0, Higgins stuttered and let McManus battle back to 5-2 before nearly recovering to 5-3.
But a superb break of 79 saw the Scot victorious and relishing his showdown with world number one O'Sullivan.
"It's a game you dream about - and I've got a point to prove," said Higgins.
"I can't wait to play him. It's Ronnie's back yard and it will be a full house. I'm delighted to be through."
"I've definitely got a lot of confidence. I'm not far away from producing the form I showed at Preston (When he beat O'Sullivan).
"It will be one hell of a match. I didn't play well last year, so I definitely want to play a lot better against him.
"I will definitely need to focus from the start tomorrow because Ronnie is the No 1 player. It's a great honour to play him in what looks to be the last Masters final at this venue.

"I've won it once before and I would love to win it again."
"Alan didn't play well in the first four frames, which gave me a boost.
"I went 5-0 up, but he got back to 5-2 and then had a chance to make it 5-3. But I potted a good long red and managed to clear up. I'm very pleased to get through."
But earlier this year Higgins notched up a record 484 unanswered points against The Rocket in his win at the Grand Prix.
In the first semi-final, O'Sullivan admitted he was forced to work hard to beat fellow Englishman Lee.
"It was really tough. I was struggling and finding it hard to get my game going early on," said O'Sullivan.
"Stephen is a great player, a great break-builder and I always knew this game was going to be a hard one to get through.
"His safety game was that good that I just had to hope the balls would open up and give me a chance. It's certainly not the best way to win a snooker match.
"It was hard having to come from behind like that and in the end it was just a matter of digging in and taking my chance in the decider."
"I felt I was going to score if I got in amongst the balls, but I was sat in my chair thinking I had to control the game," added O'Sullivan.
"I was getting outplayed in the safety department, so I just need to get to the top of the table.
"I didn't mind him [Stephen] getting his 30s and 40s, just so long as he left me 70s to win the frames.
"I'm just relieved to have got through. I've learnt a lot from that match.
"I'm fortunate to have got through. It is difficult to keep your concentration when you're sat in your chair for that length of time [the first three frames], but I'm pleased with the way I've won the match.
"I'd been frozen out and I was just hanging on in there, but I pulled it out when it mattered."
Defeated Lee was disappointed that he had not taken his chance to beat the world No 1.
"I thought he was out of sorts, but I didn't take my chances and I paid the consequences," reflected Lee.
"There were a couple of turning points in the match, but I'm a bit peeved off that I've let him off the hook when he was not flowing.
"I didn't fancy him clearing up in some frames and I didn't think he really looked that good at all.
"I've won two games this year and to be honest I feel like I've won the tournament, but I can look forward to the rest of the season."

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ROCKET POWERS PAST EBDON

19th January 2006

Ronnie O'Sullivan booked his spot in the semi-finals of the SAGA Insurance Masters with a comprehensive 6-2 win over Peter Ebdon.

'The Rocket' never looked back after storming into a 4-0 lead, but had to battle the effects of a stomach upset in the evening session to clinch his passage.

Indeed, an incident-packed match even saw O'Sullivan take part in what was the longest frame of his professional career when frame six ran for just under one hour.

However, despite being forced to depart the arena after virtually every frame in the closing stages, the Londoner held his nerve to overcome a typically competitive challenge from Ebdon.
O'Sullivan started the encounter in fine fashion and pounced on Ebdon errors in the opening two frames to win both with breaks of 97 and 77 respectively.

He then moved three ahead after eventually prevailing in a scrappy third with a clearance of 43.

When he took the fourth it meant he had won 15 consecutive frames in the tournament stretching back to last year's final following his 6-0 demolition of Ian McCulloch in the second round.

A clearly determined Ebdon broke that run by taking the first frame after the interval with a clearance of 61, then came the marathon that was frame six.

Both players left the arena for a break when the frame was around 45 minutes old and, after a slow-hand clap from the audience prior to O'Sullivan's return, it was Ebdon who finally gained the upper hand to emerge victorious by two points after potting blue, pink and black.

But that was as good as things got for Ebdon and 'The Rocket' showed excellent composure to shade the tactical battle and claim the two frames he needed.

Both were once again scrappy affairs, but, having gone 5-2 ahead, a solid 38 rubber-stamped what was clearly an enjoyable triumph for O'Sullivan who punched the air twice on crossing the finish line.

"I felt alright. I was just trying to get some composure," he commented. "I was feeling the pressure.

"I can't believe I've come through that match tonight. It was a big match and I can't believe I'm in the semis.

"It was a hard game to be involved with. The pressure was on and it made it really difficult.

"I was pleased to have won the match, but there were still some areas of my game which weren't 100%.

"I wasn't able to hide out there. I really needed the loo [in the sixth frame], but I also left to go and wash my face. I wanted to cool down and compose myself.

"I was relieved to get through, I could have easily been beaten."

For his part, Edbon stated: "I fancied beating Ronnie and winning the tournament.

"I'm playing well, but he didn't give me the chance to play. His safety was excellent.

"I'm playing well, but he didn't play as well as he can.

"I thought I was unlucky. Apparently he's not very well, but I haven't got a problem with that [which led to lengthy breaks in play].

"There's nothing that Ronnie or anyone can do to put me off!”

"It was quite a tactical match, but he played well. I fancied beating Ronnie and winning the tournament, but it's all about on the day."

However, despite his defeat, world number seven Ebdon believes he will find his best form at the Crucible in a few months time.

"It's going to take some playing really well to beat me at Sheffield this year," he predicted.

Ill O'Sullivan battles into semis

Ronnie O'Sullivan dug deep to beat Peter Ebdon 6-2 and reach the last four of the Masters at Wembley.
The defending champion won the first four frames of the session and looked like easing his way to victory.
But Ebdon recovered to take the fifth frame and then closed the gap to 4-2 by winning the sixth frame on the black.
But O'Sullivan, who was struggling with a stomach bug, held his composure to set up a meeting with Stephen Lee, who beat Graeme Dott 6-5.
O'Sullivan was beaten 13-11 by Ebdon at the World Championships in April in a match in which Ebdon was accused of slow play.
And there was more controversy at Wembley as O'Sullivan took a number of toilet breaks and disappeared for nearly seven minutes in a marathon sixth frame.
O'Sullivan said: "I felt alright. I was just trying to get some composure. I can't believe I've come through that match. It was a big match and I can't believe I'm in the semis."
Meanwhile, Lee held off a brave comeback from Dott to secure his place in the last four.
Lee led 5-2 - but Dott clawed his way back to 5-5 to force a decider.
However, Dott missed a routine red into the middle pocket on a break of 39 - and the mistake proved decisive as Lee hit a break of 81 to clinch the match.
Admitting afterwards that he had lost concentration, Lee said: "I could have been playing golf, cricket or been in the pub. I just lost my way.
"I was doubting myself when he got back level. But I'm over the moon to be through."

O'Sullivan takes charm offensive to new heights

The Times January 17, 2006
BY PHIL YATES

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN, determined to start relishing rather than resenting his life as the sport’s highest-profile player, maintained his charm offensive on and off the table by impressively launching his defence of the Saga Insurance Masters title yesterday.
Twelve months ago, O’Sullivan produced an exceptional performance to beat John Higgins 10-3 in the final. On his return to Wembley Conference Centre, the double world champion whitewashed Ian McCulloch 6-0.
O’Sullivan, “hurt” by the booing that greeted his entrance to the Grand Prix final in October, called a press conference last week, during which he repeatedly emphasised his commitment to the sport. Gone is the seemingly ungrateful character that galled certain devotees by saying he was “bored” and would “rather be gardening”. Instead, O’Sullivan appears re-energised, eager to please and focused on the task of winning the Masters for a third time.
The most well-intentioned of words mean little if not backed up by positive deeds on the green baize, but in improving his career record against McCulloch, a World Championship semi-finalist last year, to five wins from as many meetings, O’Sullivan practised what he has been preaching.
His clearance of 69, from 42 points in arrears in the first frame, set the tone and further breaks of 50, 87 and 54 fuelled his effortless progress to a quarter-final on Thursday against Peter Ebdon, his nemesis at the Crucible nine months ago. “I really enjoyed it,” O’Sullivan, wearing an “I love snooker” logo on his waistcoat, said. “I was just concentrating on getting involved in the game and making sure my mind was in the right gear.”
O’Sullivan’s runaway was preceded by another as Stephen Lee, benefiting from a radical improvement in his form, achieved his first win of the season by beating Stephen Maguire, the world No 3, 6-0. “Every time I show up I’m getting battered and I haven’t got a clue why,” Maguire said. “Stephen’s been going through a bad patch, he was 35 per cent on his game and he’s hammered me. That says it all. With all the practice I’ve been putting in, it’s unacceptable.”
Ebdon, controversially ponderous against O’Sullivan in Sheffield, was refreshingly fluent during his 6-4 victory over Stuart Bingham. In pulling away from 2-2 into a 5-2 lead, he amassed 409 unanswered points, compiling breaks of 100, 87 and 138 in the process.
Bingham stole the eighth frame on the black after requiring a snooker with four reds remaining, and recovered to trail only 5-4, but Ebdon, commuting to events from a new family home in Dubai, held firm with a decisive run of 71 in the tenth.

Search on for new Masters venue

World Snooker is searching for a new home for the Masters tournament after 27 years at Wembley Conference Centre.
The venue is being demolished to make way for redevelopment in the area because of the new Wembley Stadium.
A World Snooker spokesman said: "The future of Wembley Conference Centre is out of our hands.
"If we are not able to return next year we have several options available and many venues and cities have expressed an interest in becoming the host."
It is unsure whether the sport's governing body would look to keep the event in London or move it to a new venue elsewhere in the country.
The Brighton Centre, Reading Hexagon, Cardiff International Arena, Plymouth Pavilions and Bournemouth International Conference Centre have all hosted top snooker tournaments in the past.
And the International Convention Centre in Manchester has been used for this year's BetFred Premier League.
The Masters is snooker's most prestigious invitation event and attracted new sponsorship this year from Saga Insurance.

AWESOME EBDON SETS UP ROCKET REMATCH

Peter Ebdon fired the highest break of the SAGA Insurance Masters so far tonight (Monday) as he set up an intriguing quarter-final with Ronnie O'Sullivan.
16 Jan 2006

The former world champion from Wellingborough survived a mid-match blip to see off wild card Stuart Bingham 6-4.
Bingham has been in top form of late having lost just twice in his last 21 matches, but Ebdon deserved his victory.

Breaks of 100, 87, 138 and 71 saw the world No 7, who now lives in Dubai, dent Bingham’s impressive run. He is front-runner for the £10,000 high break prize.

"That’s probably the best I’ve played for a long time," declared Ebdon, who meets O’Sullivan on Thursday evening.

"It was nice to flow for a change. I think everyone knows I play better when I’m like that, but sometimes my game is a bit disjointed."

Ebdon led 2-0 after pinching two scrappy frames, before Bingham hit back to level with a 58 break in the third frame and a 21 clearance in the fourth.

However, Ebdon then won three frames on the spin to edge 5-2 ahead. He scored 409 unanswered points, and it was 425 points before Bingham even potted a ball.

But, to his credit, Basildon’s Bingham won a foul-littered eighth frame after needing a snooker. He reduced his arrears further with a 57 run in the ninth, sealing it after Ebdon missed the final pink.

Ebdon, though, knocked in a 71 break to win the match and is now relishing his last eight showdown with O’Sullivan.

"Stuart’s a good player, but I played well," added Ebdon. "I had three good days practice with Ken Doherty at the Snooker Academy [in Wellingborough] before travelling to the tournament, and it did me the world of good.

"I’m looking forward to playing Ronnie in the next round, it should be a great match. He always gets tremendous support, but every game is different and I can’t wait to play him."

Ebdon famously fought back from 8-2 down to beat O’Sullivan at last season’s World Championship quarter-finals, clawing back to triumph 13-11 at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.

Ebdon was widely criticised for his methodical approach during that contest. "I’m more focused now and I’ve put that match behind me," he added. "I’m just looking forward to playing Ronnie again."

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CHINESE CHAMPS FOLLOW ROCKET'S LEAD

Travis Perkins UK Champion Ding Junhui and world under-21 champion Liang Wenbo donned 'I Love Snooker' t-shirts at the SAGA Insurance Masters tonight (Monday).
16 Jan 2006

The two Chinese teenagers travelled from their base in Wellingborough to Wembley to watch stablemate Peter Ebdon see off Stuart Bingham 6-4.

They sported the t-shirt as worn by Ronnie O'Sullivan at his press conference last week.

"I like the t-shirt and I'm glad that Ronnie is sticking with snooker," said Ding. "He was the player I most admired when I first started watching snooker because of the fast, attacking way he plays."

O'Sullivan beat Ding 6-2 when they met at Wembley last year. "I've still got a lot to learn, but next time I play him I'll be trying hard to win!" added the China Open champion.

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O'SULLIVAN BEGINS DEFENCE IN FINE STYLE

Ronnie O'Sullivan began the defence of his SAGA Insurance Masters title in fine fashion with a 6-0 whitewash of Ian McCulloch.
The Rocket was not at his vintage best at the Wembley Conference Centre, but was always in control against the Lancastrian left-hander in their second round clash.
"I really enjoyed it out there," said O'Sullivan, who recently made a U-turn on his announcement that he had fallen out of love with snooker.
The world number one said "I'd rather be planting shrubs in the garden" after his 6-5 win over Barry Hawkins at the Preston Grand Prix in October. He added: "I'm bored with the game."
However, despite threatening a new career in pool, O'Sullivan was quick to hit back at criticism he faced from some fans in Preston and his bizarre antics at the Travis Perkins UK Championship in York last month.
O'Sullivan draped a white towel over his face on the way to a 9-8 defeat to Mark King in York.
But he said: "I don't think I've lost any support. I think people like me.
"There were only about six people [at Preston] who booed me and they'd probably had too much to drink.
"But that's history now and I got brilliant support out there [at the Wembley Arena]. It was a good atmosphere and it's a great venue."
O'Sullivan sported a T-Shirt which said: "I love snooker" at a pre-Wembley press conference last Friday. His post-match comments after beating McCulloch confirmed the message.
"I really enjoyed it out there. It could have been un-enjoyable if Ian had found his rhythm, but I played well today," added O'Sullivan.
"At the moment I'm just concentrating on this tournament and hopefully having some more fun.
"You never know what you're going to do in the future. I've not got a crystal ball, but I'll be travelling in for my next match and we'll see what happens."
O'Sullivan knocked in breaks of 69, 50, 87 and 54 on the way to earning a quarter-final meeting with former world champion Peter Ebdon.
McCulloch, who managed a highest break of 46, admitted: "Ronnie's done that to better players than me, but I'm happy to have won my first round match.
"I can't be too disheartened. I just didn't get too many chances."

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O'SULLIVAN STARTS IN STYLE

16th January 2006

Ronnie O'Sullivan has started the defence of his Saga Insurance Masters title with a 6-0 whitewash of Ian McCulloch at Wembley
And 'The Rocket' declared that he was, once again, enjoying his snooker, after recent behaviour suggested that the game's appeal might be losing its grip.
"I really enjoyed it out there. It could have been un-enjoyable if Ian had found his rhythm, but I played well today," the 30-year-old said.
Despite failing to produce anything like his best form, O'Sullivan was always in control against the Lancastrian left-hander, knocking in breaks of 69, 50, 87 and 54 on his way to victory.
The double world champion declared himself to be "bored with the game" at the Preston Grand Prix in October, before draping a white towel over his face as he went out of December's UK Championship in York.
But O'Sullivan, who has a much-publicised interest in carving out a pool career in the US, appeared content with unfolding events at Wembley.
"At the moment I'm just concentrating on this tournament and hopefully having some more fun," he added.
"You never know what you're going to do in the future. I've not got a crystal ball, but I'll be travelling in for my next match and we'll see what happens."

Maguire suffers Wembley whitewash

World number three Stephen Maguire crashed out of the Wembley Masters in a humbling 6-0 loss to Stephen Lee.
Lee opened with a 95 break and then won a couple of scrappy frames before rifling in an 87 in the fifth frame and winning the last 62-46.
"Every match I turn up to these days I seem to get battered," said Maguire.
"I came into the match confident, but from the word go I was very flat. I've lost the plot and I just don't know what the matter is."
Former world champion Peter Ebdon moved into the quarter-finals of the Masters with a 6-4 victory over Stuart Bingham.
In a scrappy opening to the match, wild-card Bingham managed to match Ebdon to level the scores at 2-2.
But Ebdon then moved up a gear to take the score to 5-2, in the process scoring 409 unanswered points.
Bingham won a scrappy eighth frame and hit a 57 break to go to to 5-4, before Ebdon sealed the match and a date with Ronnie O'Sullivan with a break of 71.
Ronnie O'Sullivan began the defence of his Masters title in style with a 6-0 thrashing of Ian McCulloch.
"The Rocket" knocked in breaks of 69, 50, 87 and 54 on the way to earning a quarter-final meeting with Peter Ebdon or wildcard Stuart Bingham.
"I really enjoyed it out there," said O'Sullivan, who has recently reaffirmed his love of snooker.
"At the moment I'm just concentrating on this tournament and hopefully having some more fun."

BINGHAM TO FACE DAVIS ON WEMBLEY DEBUT

Stuart Bingham will face snooker legend Steve Davis when he makes his Masters debut in January.
25 Nov 2005 10:36:00

Earlier this week, Bingham won the qualifying event to earn a wild card entry to snooker’s most prestigious invitation tournament, beating Ali Carter 6-3 in the final.
He will face Davis, six-times world champion and three times winner of the Masters, in the opening match of the event at Wembley Conference Centre on Sunday, January 15 at 11am.
"It’s a dream come true to be playing at Wembley, especially against Steve who has done so much in the sport," said 29-year-old Bingham, a former world amateur champion.
The two Essex professionals have practised together on many occasions, though they have met just once in a tournament: at last season’s British Open when Bingham won 5-4.
"I learned a lot from Steve when I used to practise with him - mainly that he is very, very good!" Bingham added. "I can’t wait to play at Wembley, I’ve been there a few times to watch and have always wanted to play there."

The other Masters wild card, Ian McCulloch, will face Joe Perry on the same day at 7pm.
McCulloch, the 34-year-old from Preston, enjoyed the best season of his career in 2004/05. He reached the final of the Grand Prix and the semi-finals of the World Championship, climbing to No 16 in the world rankings.
"I’m delighted, Wembley is one of the venues that everyone wants to play at," said the left-handed Lancastrian. "I saw Jimmy White play Stephen Hendry there a few years ago and the atmosphere was really special. It will be a great experience and I’m really looking forward to it."
World No 1 Ronnie O’Sullivan is defending champion, having beaten John Higgins 10-3 with a sensational display in last year’s final. Grand Prix champion Higgins will be aiming to wrestle the title from his grasp, as well as the likes of Stephen Hendry, Stephen Maguire, Matthew Stevens, three-times Masters champion Paul Hunter, world champion Shaun Murphy and crowd favourite Jimmy White.

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