Ronnie O’Sullivan set two new Crucible records at Stephen Hendry’s expense on Saturday – and remains on course to equal the Scot’s biggest career achievement.
The Rocket swiftly pouched the single frame he needed yesterday afternoon to complete a 13-4 victory over Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen.
In doing so world No1 O’Sullivan, 46, edged ahead of Hendry’s marks for Crucible wins with his 71st, and quarter-finals by reaching his 20th.
And the huge incentive of drawing level with the ‘King of the Crucible’ on seven world titles is looming larger for the new favourite to lift the trophy.
Hendry’s last Crucible win came back in 2012, the year he retired before a recent comeback – but O’Sullivan’s two wins this year against David Gilbert and now Allen have seen him overhaul his rival in that regard.
And the Scot, the only realistic challenger to O’Sullivan for the title of ‘greatest of all time’, got to the last eight a decade ago – the year he packed away his cue.
O’Sullivan, who plays Stephen Maguire on Tuesday for a place in the semis, said: “At the Crucible it is about who has the biggest heart, who has a lion’s heart. There are a lot of lions in this tournament – that’s what it takes to win this tournament.
“I have to be prepared to dig deep and go through the mustard as my mate says, and as long as I can control it and manage it and still find time to enjoy it, that’s a bonus. This and the Masters are the toughest for me – I don’t know why, but they just are.
“I try and be the best version of myself I can be with years of practice and dedication – that’s why people like Bruce Lee were heroes, look at how he trained both physically and mentally – an expert in a different field.
“You aim high and try to make it look easy, so a lot of my heroes were people like Bruce, Ayrton senna and Michael Jordan and I try to approach my sport like them.
“But it isn’t easy, and I really struggle with it sometimes to be honest but that is part and parcel, and when you sign up for it, part of it is tough. Even when I won it in 2012 and steam-rollered everyone, it was still tough.
“It was a tough match, there is emotion – I am not sitting there weeping and crying, but as a sportsperson you go through it out there.
“People talk about the mental health side and I say there is a thing for me called snooker depression, as there probably is for golf and tennis. It’s about trying to pinpoint it, cope with it and manage it, enjoy it and have a bit of fun out there. And now I can breathe.
“As for the records and statistics, most don’t mean anything, it is all about winning majors for me – I’d almost get beat in the first round than the final. You either win it, or you don’t.
“It’s about wins, I have won this six times, I’d like to win it again but if not then no big deal. If I don’t I’ll still be classed with maybe two or three others as greats of the game.
“I know Jack Nicklaus had 18 majors and 16 seconds but no one really remembers the seconds, do they?
“And with myself, John Higgins and Mark Williams there is like a competition that has been going on for 30 years – longer really, since junior days. We have been motivating and inspiring each other and all want to outlast each other. It is an unspoken motivation if you like. And out of the three of us Williams is probably playing the best at the moment. H is hitting the ball firmer, and with more authority. He is an absolute animal, and you can never begrudge anyone that.”
All the damage against Allen had been done in the first two sessions, and in the eyes of many even the first eight frames.
O’Sullivan is a renowned front-runner and having established a 6-2 advantage in the opening exchanges there seemed no way back for Northern Ireland’s Allen.
There were breaks of 87, 131, 69, 96, 57, 93, 67, 88, 53 and 100 and the world No15 did well to avoid the indignity of taking the contest into the final day.