Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui both reached the quarter-finals as the 2017 Masters got under way in London on Sunday.
Defending champion O’Sullivan survived a monumental scare in coming from 5-4 behind to beat Liang Wenbo in a decider.
Liang had wasted several opportunities in the penultimate frame to knock the pre-tournament favourite out, including rattling the final black as the nerves got the better of the Chinese no.2.
The ‘Rocket’, who looked rusty after the Christmas break and admitted to feeling a little under the weather, appeared in control when he led 4-2 but in the end was lucky to escape with the narrow victory over his good friend.
A visibly stunned O’Sullivan sunk Liang’s missed black and duly went on to compile a 121 century break in the deciding frame to book a last eight spot against either Neil Robertson or Ali Carter.
The 41 year-old will have to produce a much better standard if he’s to break the record of most Masters titles – an accolade currently shared by O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry with six triumphs apiece.
O’Sullivan doesn’t play again until Thursday, though, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a completely different animal come his second outing of the week.
Meanwhile, Ding let slip the opportunity of recording a second career maximum break in the tournament but did manage his first victory in the event since 2011 as he ousted debutant Kyren Wilson 6-3.
The World Championship runner-up appeared on course to complete a memorable 147 break but he overran his positioning from the 15th black to the yellow and ultimately failed in cutting the sixth last ball into the middle pocket.
It would have been only the fourth 147 in Masters history and Ding’s second following his effort during the 2007 edition.
Ding’s overall level of play was patchy but a first ever win at the Alexandra Palace for the 29 year-old, champion six years ago when the tournament was previously staged at the Wembley Arena, could instill him with a new air of confidence.
His opponent in the last eight will be either Stuart Bingham or Joe Perry, who go head-to-head in one of the two matches scheduled to be played on Monday.
Neither player has a strong record in the Masters, albeit Bingham did manage to make a maiden semi-final appearance 12 months ago.
It will be interesting to see where Bingham’s focus lies after welcoming his baby daughter Marnie into the world on Saturday.
Perry holds the advantage from their previous meetings but he hasn’t been enjoying a good run of form of late and admitted last week to being a bit disillusioned with the game at present.
Before that contest, John Higgins and Mark Allen do battle in one of the ties of the round.
Higgins enters the competition as one of the favourites following his displays at the end of 2016 but, although being a two-time champion, the Scot doesn’t boast a particularly good record in the Masters.
Indeed, the 41 year-old has stumbled at the first hurdle in half of his prior 22 appearances dating back to his debut in 1995.
In Allen, he faces a tricky obstacle who managed to beat him at this same stage in 2010 and 2015.
Allen, now 30, is still searching for a first major triumph and hasn’t even reached the final of a Triple Crown event since 2011.
The Northern Irishman has an abundance of talent but a lack of consistency is his predominant downfall.
Allen is known as a fighter with a never-say-die attitude, which may be the case, but the problem is that he too often finds himself scrapping in situations which he should already have had control of.
Against Higgins in current form, he’d do well to put the match to bed early if given the opportunity.
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