Mark Selby’s journey to break the ‘Curse of the Crucible’ continued on Saturday, but only just as he narrowly edged past Kurt Maflin in a classic last 32 encounter in the World Championship.
It had all appeared so comfortable for the world no.1 as he led 6-3 after the opening session and extended his advantage to 8-4 at the beginning of the evening’s play.
However, Maflin, a highly-rated competitor who was fully expected to put up a stern challenge despite making his debut appearance in the blue riband event, launched an amazing comeback.
The Norwegian claimed the next five frame in a row to take a 9-8 lead and send the defending champion to the brink of defeat.
But forever labeled as the master of brinkmanship, Selby sensed his challenger’s inexperience emerging at the death and duly capitalised by taking the final two frames to fall over the line in a thriller.
It’ll be disappointing for Maflin, who had chances to score in each of the last couple of frames, but it marks his entrance onto snooker’s greatest stage and more people will remember his name from now on.
Selby will breath a huge sigh of relief but has the luxury of the next four days off to recover before a second round clash against either Stephen Maguire or Anthony McGill.
In that battle of the Scots, it’s another debutant who is causing the seed problems as McGill leads his more illustrious compatriot 6-3.
It had looked for all money as if Maguire was going to reduce the deficit to just 5-4 before the end of the first session but a bizarre fluked snooker let McGill in and, aided by a free ball, he cleared to enjoy a three-frame cushion overnight.
The contrast in temperaments is so noticeable between the pair with 23 year-old McGill often smiling when things go wrong for him, whereas Maguire’s anger frequently got the better of him even early on in the encounter.
One suspects the two-time semi-finalist will need to reign in his temper if he is to mount a comeback against a composed young player many are tipping to be a future world champion.
There was a similar end to the tie involving another Scot, John Higgins, and world no.17 Robert Milkins.
Higgins raced into a 5-1 lead and the match was in danger of running away from the Gloucester man, but he grew in confidence after winning a scrappy seventh frame and should have pulled it back to 5-4 before missing a routine enough pink with the rest while on a break of 58.
In typical Higgins fashion, the four-time champion made a two-part clearance to punish his opponent and also leads 6-3.
Meanwhile, there are a brace of 5-4 scorelines in the other two matches that got started on the opening day.
2006 champion Graeme Dott leads Ricky Walden by the odd frame after a high-scoring start to their clash – Walden top scoring with a break of 135 – while Fu holds a similar advantage over Jimmy Robertson.
All four of these bouts reach their conclusion on Sunday while the contests between Neil Robertson and Jamie Jones, and Barry Hawkins and Matthew Selt, begin as well.
The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.