Mark Selby, John Higgins, and Ding Junhui all won their held over qualifying round matches as the Evergrande China Championship got under in Guangzhou on Wednesday.
Selby and Ding weren’t at their best, understandably a little rusty as they contested their first proper matches of the season, but still managed a couple of comprehensive 5-1 triumphs.
However, the same couldn’t be said about reigning champion Higgins, who romped to a 5-0 win in less than an hour against Lyu Haotian, constructing breaks of 129, 72, 69, 63, and 62 in a ridiculously one-sided affair.
For the record, Higgins’ challenger, if you can call him that, scored a measly nine points.
Despite the hat-trick of victories from three of the sport’s biggest names, the first day featured several shocks as well.
Neil Robertson – highly fancied after his Hong Kong Masters triumph last month – Stuart Bingham, Liang Wenbo, and Anthony McGill all crashed out.
Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter narrowly avoided the same fate as they survived in deciding frame thrillers.
Murphy’s 5-4 success came at the expense of in-form Irishman Ken Doherty, who had arguably been the player of the season up until this point, making the most of his invitational tour card with a remarkable rejuvenation in form.
It appeared as though another barnstorming win was on the cards, following recent triumphs against top 16 members Carter and Barry Hawkins, but the 47 year-old lost the last two frames as Murphy edged into the last 32 just about unscathed.
Carter, winner of the World Open in China last summer, held his nerve with a gutsy 62 clearance in the decider against Aditya Mehta to cruelly deny the Indian.
Australia’s Robertson couldn’t muster the same kind of escape, falling in a final frame shootout to one of the many home hopefuls in Li Hang.
Teen sensation Yan Bingtao also used the motivation of playing in his native land to good use as he overcame former world champion Stuart Bingham – who was the 2016 beaten finalist when the inaugural staging of the event was run as an invitational.
This edition has lucrative ranking points on offer for the first time, though, and Scotland’s McGill will surely rue a disappointing defeat to Mark Joyce, who incidentally knocked in brilliant breaks of 72, 80, and 134 to seal the 5-2 victory, as he attempts to fight his way in amongst the top 16 before the prestigious Masters in January.
Chinese number two Liang is currently holding onto one of those coveted spots but was way below his best, despite a 102 century, as he was smoked 5-3 by Ian Burns.
Elsewhere in the first round, it was a routine day on the baize for Stephen Maguire as the five-time ranking event winner continued to show glimpses of his former self with a 5-1 hammering of Rory McLeod.
Barry Hawkins ousted Oliver Lines 5-2 while Anthony Hamilton beat Peter Ebdon 5-3 on the 25th anniversary of their first encounter way back in 1992.
Mike Dunn looked in good shape as he knocked in runs of 79 and a pair of 64s in dismantling Joe Perry 5-1, but Kurt Maflin went one better with a whitewash of Michael Georgiou.
2006 Crucible king Graeme Dott was among the other winners in the last 64 as he beat Robert Milkins 5-3.
In the remaining held over last 128 ties, Andrew Higginson, Tian Pengfei, and Daniel Wells all gratefully avoided the dreaded early exit at the hands of a wildcard.
On Thursday, the rest of the first round will be played out with Selby, Ding, and Higgins all immediately returning to action and the likes of Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan entering the fray.
Coverage continues on Eurosport.