Kyren Wilson admits his quarter-final clash with record seven-time UK Championship winner Ronnie O’Sullivan on Friday feels almost like the real final at the York Barbican.
And the 29-year-old from Kettering has cranked up the mind games - insisting he has nothing to lose and the pressure is all on the Rocket in a repeat of the 2020 World Championship showpiece.
Though world No5 Wilson has won four titles he is desperate to get one of the game’s majors on his CV, having lost to O’Sullivan in a Crucible final and to Mark Allen at the same final hurdle in the Masters.
O’Sullivan has moved through the draw as 11 former winners have tumbled out with one eye on celebrating his 46th birthday on Sunday while bidding to claim UK success No8.
Wilson said: “Possibly it feels like the real final, if you are looking at the seedings and probably in terms of each other’s career. We are probably the highest-profile players left in.
“It’s a bit of an odd one in terms of how the tournament has panned out, with lots of big seeds dropping out early. I am really looking forward to this one, it should be a cracking match.
“Even if it wasn’t Ronnie, we are in the quarter-finals of the UK Championship, and the venue becomes awesome. I’m under no pressure, whatsoever, I am like the young pretender trying to get there. Ronnie has been there, done it all, it’s potentially his to lose.
“To a certain extent you would have to say that, being a seven-time champion of this tournament, he knows what it takes to win this event. I am not there yet. I haven’t won the tournament so I don’t what it feels like and what it takes to do that. But I believe in my ability and I know what I am capable of.
“I have beaten Ronnie in some big matches previously to this one, and I know what it takes to beat him. It would be absolutely awesome to win one of the big three in our sport. I have been playing this game since I was six years old, you dream of lifting these titles, the UK, Masters and the world.
“I have been close in the other two, getting to finals. It is nice to notch up results in this tournament as previously my results in the UK Championship weren’t too good.”
Wilson came up short against O’Sullivan in the World Championship final 16 months ago, going down 18-8 – but says he learned plenty in defeat. He added: “I learned a lot from it. I am a big believer in visualisation and stuff like that, and I can take my way back there right now.
“It’s a good thing and a bad thing. If you look too much into it, it can destroy you, but if you can take the positives and try to take things you can learn from it going forward then that is great.”
O’Sullivan, the hot title favourite, said: “It would be strange if I became the second player to win a title on their 46th birthday this season, after Mark Williams! I am just trying to preserve myself from getting burned out, and you have to get used to dodgy results. You will never be on the start line for every tournament feeling good.
“Look at Michael van Gerwen in the darts. He is burned out. There is only so much of it you can do before you go like: I cannot do this anymore.”
And he naturally has fonder memories of the Crucible final between the pair around 16 months ago, having claimed a slightly unexpected sixth world title as various things fell his way and ending a seven-year title drought on the game’s biggest stage in Sheffield.
O’Sullivan: “I didn’t expect to get that far, to the final. When I got to the semi-finals, I thought I had done myself justice, I was happy with that in a way. When I got to the semi-finals, I just wanted to make the score respectable against Mark Selby. That was a goal of mine. I did that and then I managed to win that match. I don’t know how I did that, ever.
“Then in the final I really remember playing a very good last day against Kyren. Maybe some inexperience counted against him – though I usually just think whoever plays the best snooker wins.
“At some point experience has to count for nothing, if the guy produced a brilliant performance like Joe Johnson did against Steve Davis. He didn’t have much experience in those situations but went out and played a blinder. So I do think it’s on the day, having that temperament, playing at the right times, getting the big shots.”
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