Reigning champion Mark King safely negotiated his opening hurdle as the Northern Ireland Open commenced on Monday at the Waterfront Hall.
The Englishman was a surprise champion twelve months ago in an emotional triumph that will be well-remembered for a long time and he came through a scrappy affair against struggling Australian Matthew Bolton to ease into the last 64.
Local favourite Mark Allen, who admitted that he failed to perform well last year because of the weight of expectation on his shoulders, looked far from his best again on home soil but managed to prevail in a 4-2 win against Sanderson Lam.
However, fellow Northern Irishmen Joe Swail, Gerard Greene, Jordan Brown, and Declan Brennan all suffered from early exits, while there were some higher profile casualties on the first day of action in Belfast as well.
Shaun Murphy and Kyren Wilson both crashed out courtesy of 4-1 defeats to Chen Zifan and Sam Craigie respectively.
The pair of Englishmen had featured regularly at the business end of several tournaments already during this campaign, with Murphy lifting the prestigious Champion of Champions trophy only a matter of days ago in Coventry.
But their losses just go to show how difficult it is these days to maintain any significant run of form and, with that, how impressive Ronnie O’Sullivan’s last month has been on the calendar.
The “Rocket” is the last man standing who can challenge for one of the biggest boasts in the sport by claiming all four Home Nations series title. If you fancy backing him these Gambling Kingz approved bookmakers are worth checking out.
With an incredible one million pounds at stake, O’Sullivan begins his bid to add to October’s English Open success on Tuesday.
Some of the other legends of the game contested their opening round fixtures already, with varied fortunes as the competition started in front of pretty strong attendances.
UK Seniors champion Jimmy White held off Dominic Dale for a 4-3 victory over the Welshman while Ken Doherty compiled a 103 en route to recording a 4-2 scoreline against Peter Lines.
Former Irish Masters champion Peter Ebdon was downed in a tense decider by Alex Borg, though, while Belfast’s Swail squandered a 3-1 advantage in his crushing reverse against Chinese youngster Lu Haotian.
Meanwhile, Neil Robertson got his campaign off nicely thanks to a 4-1 win against Jamie Jones.
The Melbourne man needs a strong outing this week and again at the upcoming UK Championship in York if he’s to ensure he doesn’t miss the Masters in January for the first time in more than a decade.
On a day of close encounters, Li Hang took advantage of some good fortune to fight back from 3-0 down and deny a frustrated Cao Yupeng in a final frame shoot-out, while there were 4-3 glories elsewhere for Joe Perry, Robert Milkins, Oliver Lines, Noppon Saengkham, Robin Hull, and Liam Highfield.
Among some of the other names to advance were Shanghai Masters quarter-finalist Kurt Maflin and three-time ranking event winner Ricky Walden.
Live coverage continues on Eurosport and Quest TV.
Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)
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