Ronnie O’Sullivan angrily urged fans to “sit down” before crashing out of the Northern Ireland Open to Yan Bingtao. In the best-of-seven encounter, O’Sullivan trailed 3-2 before wiping out a 71-point deficit in the sixth frame to take the match into a tense decider.
But then O’Sullivan, 45, was plagued by two big errors and Masters champion Yan prevailed to book a place in the quarter finals.
The 21-year-old’s win also ended O’Sullivan’s hopes of reaching a fourth consecutive final in Belfast, having been tournament runner up on each of the last three occasions.
However, the contest was overshadowed by a flashpoint in the third frame, which saw the six-time world champion vent his frustration at spectators who he claimed were moving around during play.
The ‘Rocket’ was playing seamlessly on his way to a frame-clinching 129 when a disturbance caused him to lose focus.
O’Sullivan then walked towards the spectator in question and told him to “sit down”, gesturing with his hands, before saying his movement was “too much.”
The match referee duly responded by instructing stewards not to let any fans enter the auditorium at the Waterfront Hall during a frame.
It’s not the first time issues surrounding spectators have plagued O’Sullivan this week. After Monday’s win over Andrew Hall, he described the atmosphere as “very flat” and said he was “bored” during the contest.
He later sought to clarify the comments, which he said were a dig at the set-up of the venue, and not snooker fans.
“Obviously when I came here last time I said the atmosphere was flat,” he told Eurosport after his 4-1 win over Alfie Burden on Wednesday.
“It’s never got anything to do with the crowd, the Belfast crowd and every crowd all over the world are so enthusiastic when anyone plays.
“It’s just that the setup out there means you can’t get a good atmosphere because there’s no one sitting down the sides, so you feel like you’re playing to an empty auditorium.
“So when I said it was a flat atmosphere it’s because you feel like you’re actually not playing to anyone, you can’t see a crowd.
“The way it was put across it looked like I was saying the fans are not – it’s not up to the fans, it’s the auditorium (which) wasn’t set up right and that’s no fault of the fans or anybody.”
Alongside Bingtao, John Higgins is also into the last eight after beating fellow veteran Mark Williams, while Shaun Murphy cruised past Stuart Bingham 4-1.
Mitchell Mann, Judd Trump, and Mark Allen are also among those safely through.