Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Jimmy White 4-1 in front of a capacity crowd to reach the third round of the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast on Wednesday.
The clash was just as much about celebrating the occasion of a clash between two of the sport’s most loved players, as it was an important last 64 contest in a ranking event.
A sell-out crowd packed the Titanic Exhibition Centre to witness what could well be the last time these two legends face off against each other under competitive circumstances.
While the expectation was that it would be a an easy outing for the ‘Rocket’, White put up a spirited display for much of the affair.
Indeed, the 54 year-old raised hopes of an upset when he took the opening frame.
A wonderful 141 total clearance from O’Sullivan leveled the scores but it was frame three which really turned the tie in favour of the five-time world champion.
White had several chances but missed a routine red to the middle to gift his opponent the opportunity to move in front for the first time.
What really bogged down the former Masters champion was his inability to score heavily when in among the balls, highlighted perfectly in the fourth frame when he failed to capitalise on a great opportunity to level.
After O’Sullivan extended his lead to two frames, a 95 in the last sent him through to the last 32.
Earlier, John Higgins compiled an eighth 147 break of his illustrious career as he continued his rich vein of form in November with a 4-1 triumph over Sam Craigie.
O’Sullivan and Higgins, who met in the final of the recent Champion of Champions which the Scot prevailed in 10-7, could do battle once more if they both reach Friday’s quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, Antrim’s Mark Allen knocked in a 109 to complete a 4-2 defeat of Michael Georgiou and continue his quest for a title on home soil.
Irish interest remains high overall with the Republic’s Fergal O’Brien and Josh Boileau also into round three, but Ken Doherty lost in a dramatic decider to Anthony Hamilton.
O’Brien briefly boasted the highest break of the tournament, a 142, before Higgins’ exploits but he still safely advanced with a 4-0 rout of Mitchell Mann.
The Dubliner will meet Mark King for a last 16 berth after the latter ended any hopes of a million pound bonus being awarded in the inaugural Home Nations series.
The draw had opened up kindly for English Open champion Liang Wenbo to manoeuvre his way through the early rounds but the Chinese no.2 appeared edgy as he succumbed to a 4-2 defeat to tour stalwart King.
Pundits may now be looking at Peter Ebdon in that quarter, with the veteran former world champion squeezing through via a 4-3 victory over Adam Duffy.
For Boileau, the Kildare cueist reached the last 32 of a professional tournament for the first time in his career after a 4-2 success over Hamza Akbar.
The 21 year-old, the 2016 European Under-21 champion, had endured a difficult beginning to his rookie campaign as a professional but successive victories should give him a much-needed boost in confidence.
Although not Irish, Hossein Vafaei Ayouri will have a decent following on the island too having spent a lot of time practicing out of the Royal Navan in the last few years, and the Iranian is into the next round to play Sandersom Lam.
Elsewhere, two-time world champion Mark Williams eased through with a 4-0 win over Craig Steadman.
The Welshman, who has failed to publicly back himself over the last few years, even hinted to the fact that he is starting to believe he can win events again – perhaps after seeing what contemporary John Higgins is managing to achieve at present.
There were tight 4-3 triumphs for Joe Perry, Michael White, Ricky Walden and Anthony McGill but Hong Kong’s Marco Fu was on the wrong end of a deciding frame scoreline as he was ousted by Sam Baird.
German Masters runner-up Luca Brecel followed up his impressive whitewash of Shaun Murphy in the first round by overcoming Jamie Cope, while Kyren Wilson and Barry Hawkins managed to stay involved in proceedings this week as well.
Among the other results, Chinese teenage duo Zhou Yuelong and Yan Bingtao prolonged their participation with respective 4-0 thrashings of Allan Taylor and Eden Sharav.
18 year-old Zhou, who partnered Yan to World Cup glory last year, faces man of the moment Higgins.
Thursday’s schedule is the most hectic of the lot as two rounds take place and the field is whittled down to the final eight.
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