Ronnie O’Sullivan is still in the hunt for a sixth World Snooker Championship crown after a 10-7 triumph over Stephen Maguire on Sunday morning in Sheffield.
The “Rocket” trailed the Scot 6-3 overnight but was in a focused and determined mood as he reeled in his opponent in the second session.
Maguire was left to rue a combination of some misfortune and also a few untimely misses that proved to be crucial in his downfall.
The former UK champion, who had twice before lost to O’Sullivan at this same stage of the event, could have won two out of the opening three frames of the second session but lost them all – the 12th frame after rattling what was effectively frame ball pink in the jaws of the pocket – to see the world number two restore parity.
Although Maguire compiled an 84 break to retrieve his lead at the mid-session interval, O’Sullivan responded well again, rarely looking under pressure, and once he took the front there was only likely going to be one outcome, and so it proved.
After beginning the first session so poorly on Saturday afternoon, when he lost the first four frames in a last 32 World Championship encounter for the first time in his career, O’Sullivan can now reap the benefits of a taxing workout that could set him up nicely for even sterner tests to come.
Since throwing away a big lead to Mark Selby in the 2014 final, which ended a run of 14 undefeated matches at the Crucible, O’Sullivan has been fragile in Sheffield and has bowed out in each successive edition when the going has become tough.
However, retrieving the situation so effectively as he did against Maguire, a capable competitor who has won five ranking events in his career, will send out a message to the rest of the field that O’Sullivan’s temperament is looking strong.
At least for the time being that is, because as we all know there can be many fluctuations in form and mood during what can often be a gruelling and emotionally draining 17 days of snooker.
O’Sullivan will have surely been buoyed by the defending champion’s exit on the opening day of action but the 42 year-old still has a tough section of the draw to negotiate, with three other former world champions in his quarter alone.
The Englishman will be hoping to tap into the level of consistency that he has produced throughout this campaign, in which he has already captured a record-equalling five ranking event trophies.
O’Sullivan’s next opponent will be either 2006 world champion Graeme Dott or Ali Carter, a player who O’Sullivan has twice beaten in final showdowns at the Crucible.
Dott leads the “Captain” 6-3 going into their final session later on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Masters champion Mark Allen got his campaign off to a positive start by establishing a 6-3 cushion of his own against World Championship debutant Liam Highfield.
Allen would have been expecting to meet Selby in the last 16 but the latter’s demise has opened a gateway for the Northern Irishman to potentially embark on a run to the business end of the tournament for the first time in years.