18 april 2021 publish date

The Rocket Ronnie began defending the title. World Snooker Championship 2021

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s bid to win a record-equalling seventh Betfred World Championship crown started strongly as he hammered Mark Joyce 10-4 to reach the last 16 at the Crucible.

The opening day in Sheffield marked the return of fans to sport in the UK. O’Sullivan struggled with his game in the first ten frames against Joyce but then, thriving on the Crucible’s unique atmosphere, stepped up a gear and finished with three consecutive centuries.

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If O’Sullivan wins his next match he will set a new record of 20 Crucible quarter-final appearances

“It was a great to have a crowd,” he said. “It’s fantastic for the fans to be back watching snooker, I could feel them there. Having a crowd makes me want to find something, it’s my natural instinct. It spurs me on to play better.”

With a comfortable victory over Crucible debutant Joyce, O’Sullivan set up second round match with  Anthony McGill or Ricky Walden. Having lifted the trophy in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2020, O’Sullivan needs one more title to match Stephen Hendry’s record of seven.

This season has been a mixed one for 45-year-old O’Sullivan – he has plenty of match practice under his belt having reached five ranking event finals, but has the unwanted record of losing all five. Despite not winning a title since conquering the Crucible last August, the Essex cueman is rated among the favourites for the £500,000 top prize, alongside Judd Trump and Neil Robertson.

O’Sullivan struggled for fluency in the the first session today, and Joyce looked in with a chance when he won the first frame of the evening to trail 6-4. But Walsall’s Joyce scored just eight points in the last four frames as O’Sullivan hit top gear with breaks of 58, 124, 137 and 112.

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“There’s nothing good to say about the first ten frames,” said O’Sullivan, who is playing at the Crucible for a remarkable 29th consecutive occasion having made his debut in 1993. “I played well towards the end, hopefully I can use my experience and build on that. It’s a long tournament so things can turn around but I will need to play like that for 60 or 70 per cent of the time to have a chance. There are times out there when I wonder why I’m playing, then I look at the bigger picture. Snooker has been good to me and I enjoy it.”

Joyce said: “I have mixed emotions, I enjoyed the match but I’m disappointed with the way I played. Ronnie looked as nervy as me early in the match and at that point I felt he was there for the taking. My safety and long potting were good but I missed too many easy balls and he mopped up. Then tonight he played with a lot more freedom. Having played here once it has made me more determined to get back again. Next time I will be more relaxed.”

On the other table, David Gilbert moved within three frames of the second round as he opened up a 7-2 advantage over Chris Wakelin.

World number 15 Gilbert has struggled this season in ranking events, reaching just one quarter-final, but can rescue his campaign with a deep run in Sheffield. The Tamworth cueman dominated today’s session, compiling breaks of 60, 132, 111, 50, 90 and 100 as he built a 7-1 lead.

Wakelin won the last frame of the session but still needs a monumental comeback when they resume on Sunday at 2.30pm.

World number three Neil Robertson produced a barrage of breaks to establish a 6-3 lead over former English Open champion Liang Wenbo in their Betfred World Championship first round clash at the Crucible Theatre.

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Robertson stormed to the Tour Championship title at the beginning of the month, emphatically beating World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-4 in the final. That was the Australian’s 20th career ranking event win and set him up perfectly to mount a Crucible title tilt over the next two weeks.

The Thunder from Down Under’s only World Championship win to date came back in 2010, when he defeated Graeme Dott in the final. Following a successful 2020/21 season, which has also seen him win the UK Championship, he is highly fancied to be a contender for this year’s Crucible crown.

China’s Liang gained his place at the Theatre of Dreams by coming through the qualifying event earlier this week. He defeated compatriot Lu Ning on Judgement Day to clinch a spot in the final stages.

Robertson made a strong start this afternoon, runs of 79 and 59 helped him into an early 2-0 lead. Liang halved his deficit, but it was 39-year-old Robertson that crafted a century run of 108 to head into the mid-session 3-1 ahead.

He then moved further in front after a break of 71 handed him the fifth frame. Robertson was in first in the next, but a misjudged shot saw him unintentionally clip the wrong red and break down on 44. Liang stepped up with a break of 78 to make it 4-2.

The seventh frame came down to a battle on the blue, with Liang being presented with the first clear cut opportunity. He spurned it by potting the white and allowed Robertson to clear to the black and move 5-2 ahead.

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Robertson fired in a break of 60 to go four up, before a stunning 126 from Liang kept him in touch to end the session 6-3 down. They will return to play the best of 19 encounter to a conclusion tomorrow evening from 7pm.

On the other table the returning Jamie Jones edged to a 5-4 lead over world number eight Stephen Maguire.

Former Crucible quarter-finalist Jones came through Q School at the start of this season and has enjoyed a strong campaign, which included a run to the semi-finals of the Scottish Open. He defeated Li Hang in the final round of qualifying earlier in the week.

Former UK Champion Maguire had taken the first three frames this afternoon to move into an early 3-0 lead. However, Welshman Jones showed his steel to force himself back into contention. Five frames on the bounce saw him overhaul Maguire and move 5-3 up. However, the Glaswegian took the final frame of the session to leave the tie finely poised. They will play to a conclusion tomorrow evening at 7pm.

The article is based on WST.TV