Red-hot Ronnie O’Sullivan makes flying start in bid for sixth world title
Ronnie O’Sullivan required just one hour and 22 minutes to establish an 8-1 overnight lead against Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh as their eagerly-anticipated first-round clash turned into a one-man rampage.
The match between the two fastest players on the circuit saw O’Sullivan begin his World Championship campaign by blasting seven breaks over 50, including two centuries, and record an average shot-time for the session of just 13.41 seconds.
If it was the kind of display that would ordinarily have brought a packed crowd to its feet, it was instead greeted with bursts of canned crowd noise relayed into the arena to mark centuries and frame wins, and which initially appeared to bewilder the five-time world champion.
But otherwise O’Sullivan issued nothing but steely resolve as he set about blitzing his shell-shocked opponent, who was guilty of gifting him a series of gilt-edged chances which the favourite would ruthlessly exploit.
Breaks of 101 and 85 in the first two frames set the tone for a tie which had looked set to test O’Sullivan, given Thepchaiya’s near-miss against eventual champion Judd Trump in the first round last year, when he lost in a deciding frame.
Unfortunately Thepchaiya’s carelessness continued in the next as O’Sullivan stepped in to clear to pink for a break of 115, a foul yielding six of the seven points the Thai had managed to accumulate.
Thepchaiya had his first chance in the fourth frame but missed a simple red down the cushion on 42, and O’Sullivan duly cleared to make it 4-0 at the mid-session interval.
A loose break-off shot from Thepchaiya continued his agony, as O’Sullivan continued with breaks of 86 and 76 to extend his lead to 6-0, before the Thai avoided the indignity of a third Crucible whitewash by taking the next with a fine break of 69.
If one might have imagined a note of sympathy in the canned crowd noise that greeted Thepchaiya getting on the scoreboard, it may have extended further as O’Sullivan benefited from a fluked red to win the eighth frame at the second attempt.
O’Sullivan ensured he will take an 8-1 lead into Monday morning’s concluding session as he wrapped up a thoroughly dominant display with a break of 65.
Fellow former champions Neil Robertson and John Higgins expressed their support for the crowd experiment after reaching the second round with 10-5 wins over Liang Wenbo and Matthew Stevens respectively.
As long as they don't add somebody opening a packet of crisps and the random mobile phones going off - as long as they keep it to the end of frames and somebody making a century - it's actually really nice
Robertson, who won five frames in succession to turn a slender 5-4 overnight advantage into a comfortable victory, said: “It’s a really good addition.
“As long as they don’t add somebody opening a packet of crisps and the random mobile phones going off – as long as they keep it to the end of frames and somebody making a century – it’s actually really nice.”
Four-time winner Higgins, who converted a 6-3 overnight lead into an equally comfortably success, said it was an improvement on the previous silence which he described as “like going to Mass.”
Higgins added: “It was a lot better having some atmosphere in there. I don’t know if it would be feasible to have someone pressing a button if you play a good shot, but it would have to be someone who was pretty knowledgeable.
“I still feel the pressure out there – it’s still the Crucible you’re playing in. It’s still a venue with seats and you do feel the nerves just from being here.”
Stevens had started the second session in style with a break of 138 but missed a big chance to pull back to 8-6 when he missed a simple black, and allowed Higgins to get the snooker required to go on to win the frame and ultimately the match.
Chinese 16th seed Yan Bingtao moved close to sealing a second-round clash with Judd Trump has he built a 7-1 overnight lead against qualifier Elliot Slessor.