Ronnie O'Sullivan schools Zhao Xintong despite 'soft spot' for his opponent

Ronnie O’Sullivan still has high hopes for his protégé Zhao Xintong, despite dishing out a 6-1 thrashing to the Chinese star at the Champion of Champions on Thursday night.

The Rocket has worked with the Cyclone over the last year, seeing him as the brightest young prospect in snooker and hoping to impart some of his vast knowledge on him.

Zhao won the UK Championship and German Masters last season, his first two ranking titles, so he is certainly improving, but he could not compete with the world champion on Thursday night.

O’Sullivan was in fine form, finishing with a 96 per cent pot success rate, with two centuries and another 94 as Zhao was frozen out, and made some poor shot choices when he did get to the table.

The world number one kept lowkey on his own performance after the win, but still thinks Zhao is heading for the top, despite falling a long way short in Bolton.

‘I played alright I think,’ said the Rocket. ‘He’s an amazing player, a brilliant talent and I’m sure he’s going to have an amazing future.

‘Hopefully he does because I’ve got a soft spot for him as well. Technically he’s brilliant. It’s all there, so hopefully he can fulfil a lot of his potential.’

O’Sullivan looked to be finding some of his best form again after a couple of early exits at the British Open and Northern Ireland Open. He has already won the Hong Kong Masters this season and tends to play better in the higher-profile, one-table events.

‘I haven’t played really for five or six months after Sheffield, properly. Getting bits and pieces in. I’ve had so much work on, I’ve grabbed bits when I could,’ he said.

‘I haven’t really got going yet, so we’ll see.’

Waiting for Ronnie in the semis is Fan Zhengyi after he beat Neil Robertson and Ryan Day to get to the lasts four.

Fan caused one of the biggest shocks in the sport’s history when he beat the Rocket in the final of the European Masters last season, but O’Sullivan holds no grudges.

‘He deserved his victory that day, I’ve got no qualms about that so I look forward to playing this game on Saturday night,’ he said.

That game comes on Saturday night, with the blockbuster first semi-final between Judd Trump and Mark Selby at 7pm on Friday.

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