World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan suffered one of his most shocking defeats of recent years as he was crushed 5-0 at the BetVictor Welsh Open by Tian Pengfei, who is through to the semi-finals of a ranking event for the first time.
Three months ago, O’Sullivan was whitewashed in a Triple Crown event for the first time when he went down 6-0 to Ding Junhui at the UK Championship, but this was an even more surprising defeat as he was annihilated by a player ranked 49th in the world. The result also means that O’Sullivan cannot qualify for next week’s Players Championship in Wolverhampton as he needed to reach the final to climb into the top 16 of the one-year rankings.
While he has won two invitation titles at the Champion of Champions and Hong Kong Masters, O’Sullivan has struggled in ranking events this season, failing to reach a semi-final. He is likely to have just one more ranking event – the WST Classic in March – before he heads to Sheffield in April to chase an eighth Crucible crown.
China’s 35-year-old Tian, who knocked out Ali Carter and John Higgins on Thursday, had lost all four of his previous ranking quarter-finals, but showed no signs of nerves today in Llandudno as he progressed to a match with Mark Allen or Robert Milkins. He is now guaranteed £17,500 and if he goes on to win the title he will earn a spot in Wolverhampton – for updates on that race click here.
O’Sullivan, who has had problems with his cue tip all week, scored just ten points in the first two frames as Tian made breaks of 66 and 51 in going 2-0 ahead. A scrappy 30-minute third frame came down to the colours and O’Sullivan twice missed the blue to a baulk corner, handing his opponent the chance to pot blue and pink to extend his lead. World number one O’Sullivan failed to pot a ball in the last two frames as Tian sailed through with runs of 82 and 73.
“It’s very special, definitely the biggest win of my career, especially to play Ronnie with that crowd and atmosphere,” said Tian, who has now beaten O’Sullivan in three of their six meetings. “I know he has changed his tip a few times his week, so I feel sorry for him because that is tough for a player. It happens sometimes.
“My performance was good, I tried to stay calm and enjoy the occasion. I have beaten two legends in Higgins and O’Sullivan so I am very pleased. It’s unbelievable. Every match I just try my best and the crowd make me feel good. It means a lot, it’s like a dream to beat Ronnie on TV, and a lot of my family and friends in China will be watching.”
O’Sullivan said: “Tian played well and deserved his victory. If I scored myself on my mindset in terms of how I dealt with it today I would give myself nine and a half out of ten. Less than that for my performance. There are no excuses, you have to deal with whatever is put in front of you and accept it. I tried my hardest, but every mistake I made I got punished.”
Shaun Murphy also enjoyed a whitewash success as he beat Yuan Sijun 5-0 to set up a meeting with Joe O’Connor or Pang Junxu. That will be the Magician’s second semi-final of 2023 as he reached the same stage of the recent World Grand Prix, and the 40-year-old continues to chase his first ranking title since he won this event three years ago.
Murphy set the tournament alight on Thursday night when he made a magnificent 147, and while he couldn’t hit the same heights today, he dominated an out-of-sorts Yuan. Two breaks of 81 helped Murphy into his 48th ranking event semi-final.
“This was the last tournament I won and of course I want to lift another trophy,” said world number 11 Murphy, who has declared on the onefourseven podcast that he will moonwalk into the arena the next time he reaches a ranking final. “If you had told me that night in 2020 I beat Kyren Wilson to take the Ray Reardon Trophy that would be it for three years, I wouldn’t have believed you. But so it has proved.
“I feel my game is in good shape and it would be fantastic to add to my collection of titles. I have struggled with self-belief and confidence in recent years, but that is back and I am feeling dangerous. It would have been great to have repeated the 147 fireworks of the day before but the job was to win, and I used my experience to do that.”