Defending champion Luca Brecel has been battling a mystery illness in the build-up to his return to the World Snooker Championship on Saturday.

A nosedive in form and the so-called ‘Crucible curse’ – in which no first-time winner has ever managed to retain the title – are not the only issues afflicting the 29-year-old, who faces a tough opener against former semi-finalist Dave Gilbert.

“I’ve lost my voice a couple of times and I’ve had headaches, a bit like Covid,” said Brecel. “It’s been coming and going ever since the tournament in Saudi (in March), but it’s too big not to play in this one.”

Despite his stunning breakthrough win last season, Brecel heads to the Crucible with arguably the lowest expectations of any returning champion, having reached a solitary ranking event quarter-final this season.

And the Belgian is more than happy to accept the underdog status, adding: “I’m up against a very good player and Dave is probably the favourite to beat me, so it’s a nice challenge.”

Brecel claimed he never practised in the build-up to his famous win last year, in which he edged Ricky Walden in a final-frame decider in the opening round before going on to seal epic back-to-back wins over Ronnie O’Sullivan, Si Jiahui and Mark Selby.

This year he has at least been putting in the hours on the practice table, and says that having achieved his lifetime goal he is able to approach the Crucible with a more pressure-free mindset.

“I remember when I played Ricky last year in the decider I was really nervous at 9-9, and if goes to 9-9 now I won’t feel any nerves,” added Brecel.

“There’s nothing higher than winning the worlds and when you have that goal you always put pressure on yourself, and if you don’t get close to that goal you get frustrated.

“It’s much easier now. I don’t have that any more. I’ve won it before so it’s just about trying to be a better payer and a better person. That’s my goal now.

Brecel and Gilbert will play to a finish on the opening day, while Judd Trump gets his quest for a second title under way against Hossein Vafaei, and two-time finalist Ali Carter starts against Stephen Maguire.

Ronnie O’Sullivan demolished Ali Carter 10-2 to win what had been termed a grudge match and reach the semi-finals of the Tour Championship.

The pair had not met since their ill-tempered meeting at the Masters final in January, which O’Sullivan won 10-7.

Carter accused O’Sullivan of “snotting all over the floor” and The Rocket responded by saying his opponent was “not a nice person” during an expletive-laden rant.

O’Sullivan refused to speak about Carter in his pre-game interview, letting his snooker do the talking in a one-sided contest in Manchester that was over within an hour of the mid-match break.

Carter never settled after missing an easy red in the opening frame which O’Sullivan punished by making a 77 break.

A scrappy 28-minute frame followed and O’Sullivan went to the interval 4-0 ahead after compiling breaks of 87 and 54.

Carter’s best in the first session was a meagre 13 and his senses seemed scrambled when he attempted to swerve around the yellow and struck one of two reds left on the table.

O’Sullivan capitalised with a frame-winning 51 and extended his advantage to 7-0 with breaks of 81 and 92 – those efforts taking a total 14 minutes.

Carter headed into the final frame of the afternoon session with the grim prospect of being whitewashed.

But he responded in superb fashion with a 141 clearance to eclipse Tom Ford’s 138 as the highest break of the tournament, placing him in prime position for a £10,000 bonus.

Carter closed out O’Sullivan again at the start of the evening session, with breaks of 36 and 70 reducing the deficit to 7-2.

It was a false dawn, however, as Carter ran out of position and missed a red for O’Sullivan to make a 62 clearance.

O’Sullivan then cashed in with a decisive 52 break after another Carter error had opened up the table.

Carter was put of his misery in the 12th frame as O’Sullivan compiled 67 before going in-off in the middle pocket, a rare mistake in a snooker masterclass.

Zhang Anda and Gary Wilson will resume their quarter-final on Thursday level at 4-4, with the winner meeting O’Sullivan in the last four.

Wilson won two frames on the black to lead 3-1 before Zhang fought back strongly in an even contest.

Judd Trump eased into the semi-finals of the German Masters with a 5-2 victory over John Higgins.

Scotland’s Higgins had taken an early 2-1 lead but Trump came roaring back in Berlin with four consecutive frames, including a run of three half-century breaks.

Trump will play Sam Craigie in the last four after he reached the semi-finals of a ranking event for the first time with a 5-1 defeat of Ali Carter.

The 30-year-old confidently dispatched the defending champion in Berlin.

Carter was noticeably below par and allowed his opponent to storm into a 4-0 lead before finally getting on the board in the fifth frame.

But it came too late to alter the outcome, as a break of 89 saw Craigie progress to the last four.

The other semi-final will see Kyren Wilson take on Si Jiahui after both came through their respective last-eight meetings.

Wilson was a 5-0 winner against Fan Zhengyi whilst Jiahui won through 5-2 against Ryan Day.

The final will take place on Sunday.

Ronnie O’Sullivan coasted into the semi-finals of the World Grand Prix in Leicester with a 5-1 win over Gary Wilson.

Following a controversial eighth Masters triumph over Ali Carter, O’Sullivan has continued to questioned his snooker future, admitting he no longer gets enjoyment from the way he is playing.

However, the 48-year-old, set to take a break of a couple of months following the end of the tournament, showed no lack of sharpness as he recovered from losing the opening frame to move 3-1 ahead with a clearance of 129 either side of two half-centuries.

Wilson, the reigning Northern Ireland Open champion, fell further behind after his break finished on 52, allowing O’Sullivan back to the table to secure the snooker needed before going on to clear the colours.

O’Sullivan swiftly completed a comfortable win with another break of 58 in the sixth frame.

Ronnie O’Sullivan continued his winning form at the World Grand Prix after Ali Carter had earlier continued the pair’s bitter war of words by saying he does not think the world number one is “that well mentally”.

O’Sullivan was back in action 48 hours after beating Carter in Sunday’s Masters final, where both men carried on a long-standing feud.

The world number one, who was a 4-2 victor over Pang Junxu in Leicester, is under review by the World Snooker Tour after he described Carter as “a f****** nightmare” and said he needs to “see a counsellor” after beating his fierce rival.

The 48-year-old was hitting back at Carter, who claimed the seven-time world champion had “snotted on the floor” during their match at Alexandra Palace, which O’Sullivan won 10-7.

Both men are in action at the Morningside Arena this week and Carter went back on the offensive ahead of his 4-3 win over Wu Yize, telling ITV4: “Ronnie is entitled to his opinion. I just said what it is and how it was and I talk facts. It is as simple as that.”

Asked whether he was angry at O’Sullivan’s comments, he said: “Angry about what? It makes no difference to me what he says. He says different things on different days. I don’t think he even knows what is going to come out of his mouth at certain times.

“I actually feel a bit sorry for him. I don’t think he is that well, mentally. So we move forward and we go again this week.”

O’Sullivan caused a stir when told several newspapers: “He needs to sort his f****** life out. I’m not going to skirt around it any more, tip-toeing on eggshells around someone like that. He’s a f****** nightmare.

“Playing snooker against someone like that is a nightmare. He’s not a nice person. It’s not a nice vibe he leaves around the table.

“I’ve said my piece, I don’t give a s***. I’ve said it now, done. You know what he’s like, everybody knows what he’s like.

“He’s got issues. F****** why has he got issues with me? I’m not having it.”

O’Sullivan admitted he should have withdrawn from the event in Leicester and said the only reason is still playing tournaments is to keep his tour card.

He said on ITV after his win against the Chinese: “I will definitely be missing a few tournaments after this, I shouldn’t even really have come here to be honest, but it is alright so I thought I would just turn up. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have come.

“The main thing for me now is exhibitions, I am contracted to 25 a year so I have got to make time for them, I have 25-30 days with my sponsors, that’s two months where it is important stuff for me.

“I just play and perform to make me get my cue out of the case basically, if I didn’t have tournaments I wouldn’t play.

“I would like to think if I fell off the tour I might get a wild card but knowing World Snooker they would probably say no. I am just trying to keep my tour card really, that’s all I am trying to do.

“I am not bothered about tournaments, it is not my favourite bit to be fair.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s comments in an explosive verbal assault on Ali Carter will be reviewed by the World Snooker Tour.

O’Sullivan described Carter as “a f****** nightmare” and claimed he needs to “see a counsellor” after beating his bitter rival in Sunday’s Masters final.

The 48-year-old was hitting back at Carter, who claimed the world number one had “snotted on the floor” during their match at Alexandra Palace, which O’Sullivan won 10-7.

The WST told the PA news agency that O’Sullivan’s outburst “was under review” and refused to comment further.

O’Sullivan told several newspapers: “He needs to sort his f*****g life out. I’m not going to skirt around it any more, tip-toeing on eggshells around someone like that. He’s a f*****g nightmare.

“Playing snooker against someone like that is a nightmare. He’s not a nice person. It’s not a nice vibe he leaves around the table.

“I’ve said my piece, I don’t give a s**t. I’ve said it now, done. You know what he’s like, everybody knows what he’s like.

“He’s got issues. F*****g why has he got issues with me? I’m not having it.”

O’Sullivan added: “He’s got beef with me. He’s got issues, he’s got to sort his life out, he’s got to see a counsellor or something. He’s got to sort it out because I haven’t spoken to him for 20 years.”

The pair’s long-running heated rivalry boiled over during their 2018 World Championship match at the Crucible when O’Sullivan barged into Carter at the table.

At Alexandra Palace on Sunday, Carter had a heated exchange with someone in the crowd, who had called out when he was about to take a shot.

Carter, 44, said: “There were a couple of things that happened out there that go unnoticed. Well, they don’t go unnoticed – anyone with an eyesight or a brain can see what’s going on.

“It’s disgusting, quite frankly. No-one wants to say anything, do they? (O’Sullivan) snotting all over the floor and all that.

“I mean it’s outrageous behaviour from a top professional. If it gets swept under the carpet then for me, it’s not good.”

O’Sullivan is currently involved in a disciplinary dispute with the game’s governing body, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, over comments he made about unsanctioned exhibition matches.

It is expected the Carter matter will be referred to the WPBSA.

Mark Allen registered the second 147 of this year’s Masters as he edged past Mark Selby 6-5 and into the semi-finals.

After losing the first two frames, Allen got off the mark by producing another maximum to add to Ding Junhui’s in the opening round at Alexandra Palace, the third of the Northern Irishman’s career.

Selby subsequently moved 4-1 ahead before Allen claimed four frames in a row, including a break of 103, to take the lead.

After Selby brought things level again, Allen took the final frame to book a semi-final clash with Ali Carter.

Speaking after his match, Allen said: “I don’t know where that maximum came from because it was a really poor performance tonight.

“You never know how a match can change. I was applying myself really well, I just couldn’t find any rhythm and, as the match went on, I grew into it.

“Any win against Mark is a good win, so I’ll take that into tomorrow, but I’ll need to play better.”

Carter earlier knocked out defending champion Judd Trump in another contest that went down to the wire.

Carter was losing 5-4 and facing an exit in the 10th frame only for his opponent to over-cut the matchball red, allowing the 44-year-old to seize his chance and produce a 43 clearance to take it to a decider.

Boosted by that momentum, a break of 64 then saw Carter, who had been 4-2 up, only for Trump to fight back with a break of 129 on his way to winning three frames in succession, through to only his second Masters semi in 13 attempts.

“For all the money, I looked like going 5-3 in front and lost my composure for a couple of frames,” Carter said in his post-match interview.

“I felt like I worked really hard but was delighted to make an unbelievable clearance to force a decider.

“Then how I’ve held myself together there, I don’t know – that’s a feather in my cap.”

The other semi-final sees Ronnie O’Sullivan face Shaun Murphy.

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