Ronnie O’Sullivan is through to his record-equalling 57th ranking event final after overcoming Barry Hawkins 6-4 to reach the Players Championship showpiece in Milton Keynes.
The Rocket endured a slow start at the Marshall Arena on Friday; registering a top break of just 27 as he fell 3-1 behind at the interval.
However, the six-time World champion was firing on all cylinders after the restart with breaks of 83, 75, 90 and 79 as he won five of the next six frames to seal his 14th win over Hawkins in 16 attempts.
O’Sullivan also booked his place in a fourth ranking event final of the season – in which he is still seeking his first silverware – while moving level with Stephen Hendry on 57 for his career.
The two-time Players Championship winner was sensational in his 6-1 rout of Jack Lisowski in the quarter-finals on Thursday; racking up breaks of 125, 124, 93 and 79 along the way.
But less than 24 hours later, he struggled to match those levels in the opening mini session.
Hawkins – seeking his first ranking event final since the 2018 China Open – capitalised by taking the opening frame on the colours, before contributions of 109 and 87 opened a commanding 3-0 lead.
Things were looking good for the Hawk, who was eyeing only a third victory over O’Sullivan in 16 meetings.
But after stopping the rot, the Rocket went into overdrive after the interval with runs of 83, 75, 90 and 79 completing the turnaround and moving him to the brink of victory at 5-3 up.
Hawkins must have feared the worst having surrendered a 5-1 advantage against Judd Trump at the same stage of the German Masters – his other semi-final appearance in a ranking event this season.
However, he responded well with runs of 40 and 81 in the next halving the deficit and keeping his hopes alive.
The three-time ranking event winner had a chance to force a decider, but broke down in unfortunate circumstances as an attempted cannon off two reds on the baulk cushion left him snookered behind the green.
A tactical battle ensued but after Hawkins failed to get the cue ball safe, a relieved O’Sullivan stepped in to clear with 42 to snatch the frame on the black and, with it, a place in the final.
Standing in the Rocket’s way of completing a Players Championship hat-trick will be Kyren Wilson or John Higgins, who enjoyed a surprisingly comprehensive whitewash of Mark Selby in the last of the quarter-finals earlier in the day.
The four-time World champion reeled off six frames without reply – knocking in three centuries along the way – against Welsh Open winner Jordan Brown on Wednesday.
And the Wizard was in a similarly ruthless vein of form against a helpless Selby, who registered a mere seven points throughout the match.
By contrast, Higgins scored a whopping 546 points – hitting breaks of 60, 70, 63 and 100 – to make it 12 frames without reply this week, while booking his place in a ranking event semi-final for only the second time this season.
Players Championship 2021 Results
Friday February 26
John Higgins 6-0 Mark Selby
Barry Hawkins 4-6 Ronnie O’Sullivan