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.

Judd Trump is one win away from a fifth ranking title of the season after beating Jackson Page in the semi-finals of the World Open.

Trump will face China’s Ding Junhui in the final in Yushan after beating an unfortunate Page 6-2, the Welshman cutting his finger while taking his cue out of its case before the match.

“The buckle of the case ripped the skin on my finger,” Page said. “I was praying for it not to bleed, but then it started bleeding.

“I tried putting a plaster on, but then I couldn’t feel the cue so I had to take it off. It’s not an ideal start in your first semi-final.”

Trump, who won this event the last time it was staged in 2019, opened with a break of 122 and won four frames in a row following the interval after Jackson’s break of 72 had made it 2-2.

“It was a scrappy game, neither of us played well, we both missed a lot of balls,” Trump said.

“It was Jackson’s first semi-final and he didn’t really settle, my experience probably made the difference.

“I haven’t played that well this week, I have scraped my way through with sheer determination, but that has been the case at other tournaments I have won this season. Hopefully things click in the final.”

Victory in the final would give world number two Trump a 28th career ranking title, moving him level with Steve Davis on the all-time list and behind only Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and John Higgins.

The other semi-final proved a tense affair between Ding and Neil Robertson, which went to a deciding frame.

Breaks of 67 and 118 had seen Robertson open up an early 3-1 lead.

Ding, though, responded with two half-century runs of his own to edge back in front.

Robertson made 128 in the ninth frame despite becoming frustrated with the frequent interruptions from mobile phones in the noisy crowd, the Australian appearing to point out one serial offender to the referee.

However, Ding responded again as he took a tense 10th frame with a break of 68.

Then after Robertson had missed a chance to wrap up victory when looking set on a break of 53, the world number nine clinched a hard-earned place in the final with a run of 24 to win the deciding frame 70-56.

Ronnie O’Sullivan stepped up his game to sink Lyu Haotian and book his place in the last 16 of the World Open in Yushan.

The world number one had looked rusty in his previous round win over Michael White but got back in the groove to shrug off the determined world number 28.

Lyu twice hit back to level in the first four frames but O’Sullivan would not be denied and breaks of 106 and 96 in the final three frames to set up a meeting with Hossein Vafaei.

Judd Trump, who won the tournament when it was last staged in 2019, stayed on course for a repeat performance as he fired two centuries in a 5-3 win over Fan Zhengyi.

Trump’s performance was upstaged by Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy, both of whom compiled three centuries as they secured victories over Cao Yupeng and Joe Perry respectively.

Neil Robertson and Mark Selby were also winners, but world champion Luca Brecel’s recent return to form juddered to a halt as he was thrashed 5-1 by Stephen Maguire.

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.

Defending Masters champion Judd Trump held his nerve to summon a match-winning break of 65 and beat Kyren Wilson 6-5 in a fluctuating first round clash at Alexandra Palace.

Trump stormed back from a 3-0 deficit to reel off five frames in a row and put himself on the brink of victory before a costly miss in the penultimate frame handed his opponent the initiative.

Wilson looked set to wrap up victory himself when he got in first in the decider but he left a red dangling over the middle pocket on a break of 51 and two-time winner Trump coolly stepped up to book his place in the last eight.

Trump told Eurosport: “It was a bit of a scrappy game and it was nip and tuck the whole way through.

“I felt like I threw it away at 5-4. Kyren made an amazing break to go 5-5 and it looked like he would get over the line but he just left that little gap and I took it quite well.”

Breaks of 65 and 76, as well as a superb clearance of 34 to the pink after Trump’s 58 in frame three, helped Wilson race into a 3-0 lead.

Contributions of 42 and 52 saw Trump finally get on the scoreboard before the mid-session interval and the former world champion then got back on level terms with breaks of 101 and 83.

Trump won the seventh frame to edge in front for the first time and also took the next, a scrappy affair which lasted 40 minutes, to lead 5-3, only for Wilson to edge a tense ninth frame to keep the match alive.

Wilson drew level after a brave long red sparked a frame-winning clearance of 58, but he could not repeat the feat when it mattered enabling Trump to sink the final black to get over the line.

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui will roll back the years when they square off in the UK Snooker Championship final in York on Sunday.

Their clash comes 30 years after O’Sullivan reached his first UK final as a 17-year-old in 1993, while Ding’s first taste of UK glory came in 2005 when he saw off four-time winner Steve Davis at the age of 18.

The pair came through their respective semi-finals in contrasting circumstances on Saturday, with O’Sullivan easing past Hossein Vafaei 6-2, while Ding held his nerve to deny Judd Trump with a 6-4 win in the evening session.

O’Sullivan and Ding – still the two youngest winners of the prestigious trophy – boast 10 UK titles between them and the world number one quipped that he was motivated by the desire to deny his rivals the chance of more silverware.

“I’m just hanging around so people don’t get as good as a career as me,” joked O’Sullivan, who ruthlessly exploited a series of costly errors from his Iranian opponent to seal by far his most comfortable victory of a gruelling week.

“If I could stop (Mark) Selby winning a few and Judd winning a few, and Ding and (Neil) Robertson winning a few – just ruin their careers a little bit – that would be great. Sometimes that’s just a nice motivation to play.”

O’Sullivan, who had previously laboured through final-frame deciders against Robert Milkins and Zhou Yuelong, was still far from his best but managed to ruthlessly exploit a string of errors by Vafaei, who spurned a good chance in five of the six frames won by his opponent.

“I feel as fresh as a daisy,” added a revitalised O’Sullivan afterwards.

“These tournaments are not a problem. I can do it quite comfortably. I’m still happy to have got this far, it’s great and I have enjoyed my week.”

Sunday’s clash will also see a repeat of last year’s quarter-final when Ding dealt out a rare 6-0 whitewash to O’Sullivan before going on to the final, where he surrendered a 6-1 lead to fall 10-7 to Mark Allen.

The Chinese 36-year-old, who also won the tournament in 2009 and 2019, had arrived in York considering withdrawal due to a serious bout of ‘flu, but like O’Sullivan, had managed to chisel out final-frame wins over Allen, then Mark Williams in Friday’s last eight.

Trump, also clearly still feeling the effects of illness, had reached the last four despite playing far from his best and will have been motivated by the possibility of facing O’Sullivan in the final with the title and the world number one ranking also at stake.

Trump started well with two centuries in the first eight frames but he could not shake off the dogged Ding, with the pair locked together at 4-4 before Ding nudged through a tense ninth to put himself one frame from victory.

Trump had the first chance to stretch the tie into another decider but jawed a relatively-simple red to middle and Ding stepped in with a nerveless 84 clearance to black, including a stunning long red after straying out of position, to seal his swift return in the final.

Ding, who routinely saves his best form for York, admitted such a scenario had seemed impossible when he was ailing midway through his first-round match against Allen.

“A lot of fans were watching and I just wanted to finish it – it didn’t matter how well I played, maybe I lost and would go home, I’d just try my best,” he admitted.

Of his win over Trump, Ding added: “It was a very tough match and the last few reds were a bit scrappy, but to pot that long red and go on to win the frame is saying something to myself.

“I hadn’t seen myself playing like that for a long time.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan says he is motivated by the opportunity to “ruin the careers” of his major rivals after he breezed into the ninth UK Championship final of his career with a 6-2 win over Hossein Vafaei in York.

Thirty years after he first won the title as a 17-year-old in 1993, O’Sullivan will face either Judd Trump or Ding Junhui on Sunday seeking to win a record-extending eighth crown and shut out one of the pair from building their own collection of silverware.

“I’m just hanging around so people don’t get as good as a career as me,” quipped O’Sullivan, who ruthlessly exploited a series of costly errors from his Iranian opponent to seal by far his most comfortable victory of a gruelling week.

“If I could stop (Mark) Selby winning a few, and Judd winning a few, and Ding and (Neil) Robertson winning a few – just ruin their careers a little bit – that would be great. Sometimes that’s just a nice motivation to play.”

O’Sullivan was hardly an underdog heading into his first meeting with Vafaei since their controversial Crucible clash in August, but the Iranian was certainly the man in form after rifling seven centuries across the tournament’s three previous rounds.

In contrast the 47-year-old O’Sullivan had laboured through consecutive final-frame deciders against Robert Milkins and Zhou Yuelong, often appearing wayward and unfocused for periods despite booking his place back in the last four.

While O’Sullivan looked more clear-headed throughout their quarter-final clash, his dominance was due in part to an underwhelming performance from Vafaei, for whom errors in five of the six frames won by his opponent served up a disappointingly one-sided encounter.

Vafaei ran aground on a break of 30 in the opener and O’Sullivan swept up with a break of 54 before a 113 in the second frame put him firmly in command.

Vafaei showed a glimmer of fight as his eighth century of the tournament started the charge back level, but O’Sullivan took an error-strewn fifth and restored his two-frame lead after Vafaei missed a shockingly easy red to the middle.

O’Sullivan jawed a shot to the same pocket in the next, but a missed black off its spot brought more pain for Vafaei and when he missed the same colour to the top pocket in the eighth frame, the Iranian’s hopes of reaching a first major career final were over.

“I feel as fresh as a daisy,” added a revitalised O’Sullivan afterwards. “These tournaments are not a problem. I can do it quite comfortably. I’m still happy to have got this far, it’s great and I have enjoyed my week.

Judd Trump stormed into the quarter-finals of the UK Championship with a 6-0 win over Jamie Jones in York.

The 34-year-old had been suffering the apparent effects of flu as he arrived at the tournament, but followed up his opening 6-1 victory win over Pang Junxu with another convincing display.

Trump – who became only the fifth player in history to win three back-to-back ranking tournaments last month – never looked back after starting with a break of 100, for a 950th career century.

Welshman Jones continued to be punished for mistakes, with Trump capitalising to take the third frame with a break of 59 before another half-century saw him heading into the interval with a commanding 4-0 lead.

Although Jones built a potential frame-winning chance when back on the table, his run ended at 44 which allowed Trump to close out the fifth before sealing victory in the next by 84-0.

Trump has reached the final of the UK Championship three times, winning his solitary title in 2011, and on current form looks a strong contender for this year’s trophy.

“I feel like if I can get through those first couple of rounds then I’m playing amazing and it takes something really special to beat me,” Trump said to BBC Sport following his win over Jones.

“A lot of other players perform the same in all conditions, but my cue action, where I come across the ball and hit with a little bit of side at impact, I have to get used to how the table is playing with side a lot more than other players.

“The first game I am really nervous, but when I know how I am playing on the table it just becomes easy for me.”

Trump will face either Mark Selby or Barry Hawkins in the last eight.

“I am full of confidence, but also the opposition hasn’t stood up to me, which sometimes I don’t really like because you get through too easy and you’re not pushed,” Trump said.

“I know in the next game whoever I play, I am going to have to up my standard.”

On the other table during Wednesday’s afternoon session at the Barbican, Ding Junhui saw off Tom Ford 6-3 to reach the last eight.

Ding opened with breaks of 126 and 110, but Ford hit back with runs of 118 and 98 to level the match.

It remained a close contest as Ford battled to stay in touch, before Ding edged the eighth frame and then closed out victory with a break of 106, which should secure his place in next year’s Masters.

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