Qualifier Ding Junhui came from 8-6 down to beat Martin Gould 10-8 in a thrilling first round encounter in the World Championship on Wednesday.
The Chinese no.1, an eleven-time ranking event winner, was forced to qualify for the tournament after dropping out of the elite top 16 in the world rankings where an automatic place at the Crucible was guaranteed.
But after emerging from Ponds Forge unscathed, nobody wanted to be paired alongside his name when the draw was made last Thursday.
It was the German Masters champion Gould who pulled the short straw and, even though he produced a great effort, he paid the price as Ding booked his spot in the second round.
Ding began well, racing into a 4-1 lead with runs of 90, 110, 54 and 87 but his opponent fought back strongly and constructed a spectacular century break in the last frame of the session – where Gould was potting balls from unbelievable positions – to trail by just one frame at 4-5.
Gould quickly levelled the tie upon its resumption in the evening and moved into a 7-6 lead with breaks of 53 and 96.
It then looked like Gould had inflicted the killer blow as he gained the snookers required to snatch the 14th frame on the black for an 8-6 advantage.
Yet, Ding responded in champion’s fashion, knocking in a brace of centuries and an 86 to reclaim the lead at 9-8.
A tense subsequent frame could have gone either way but Ding managed to clear and avoid the decider, as he moves into the last 16 where he’ll face either Judd Trump or Liang Wenbo.
That’s increasingly looking like it will be an all-Chinese battle as Liang established a 6-3 overnight cushion over the former world no.1 following a highly entertaining first session.
Liang, the UK Championship runner-up, began in scintillating style with runs of 117 and 107 sending out a clear message but Trump responded with a 58 and 86 to immediately level.
Several of the frames thereafter became quite tactical, although laced with some outrageous potting from Liang in particular.
Three frames behind, Trump has a lot of work to do in order to avoid a last 32 defeat for what would be the first time since his debut.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen made light work of debutant Mitchell Mann’s challenge, securing a comfortable 10-3 triumph.
Mann looked lost in the cauldron arena as he struggled to cope with the pressure of the event, but Allen cued quite well as he confidently got going in this year’s edition.
The Players Championship winner will face either Kyren Wilson or Joe Perry in the last 16, with the former currently 5-4 in front after winning the last three frames in a high-scoring encounter.