Ding Junhui won only his second match at the Masters in eight years with a comfortable 6-1 victory over Jack Lisowski on Monday in London.
The Chinese number one claimed the prestigious invitational crown in 2011 when he overcame Marco Fu in the first all-Asian final in professional snooker.
However, after the Masters moved from the Wembley Arena to its current home of the Alexandra Palace a year later, Ding’s fortunes drastically changed.
Six out of Ding’s next seven appearances in the English capital city produced disappointing first round exits.
The 31 year-old evidently needed a little help and it came in the form of arguably the kindest draw possible in debutant Lisowski.
In future editions, the latter could well threaten to etch his name on the Paul Hunter Trophy but it was always going to be difficult to produce a high level first time out.
The Masters generates an atmosphere unlike many other tournaments on the calendar.
Lisowski has already proven in the past that he can struggle to discover his A-game when the pressure is at its peak.
The 27 year-old suffered a monumental collapse in the 2018 World Championship when he was thumped 13-1 by John Higgins in the second round and, even though he is enjoying his best season to date, he has squandered winning positions on numerous occasions this term.
When the going gets tough, Lisowski’s absence of a reliable B-game is clear and it’s something he’ll have to work on more if he’s to truly be considered one of the top contenders.
Ding, runner-up in the Six Red World Championship this term, wasn’t anywhere near his best either but the former world number one has perhaps grown used to being forced to rely on an ability to scrap.
The 2007 Masters runner-up doesn’t score as heavily or as often as he used to, at least on a consistent basis, and a significant number of his encounters tend to get bogged down in tactical exchanges.
This couldn’t have been any more evident than in the third frame with Lisowski, when 54 shots were required on the final pink before Ding edged the frame on the black for a 3-0 advantage.
Lisowski’s challenge wilted thereafter and Ding, who knocked in a 123 in the fifth frame, coasted to the finish line to set up a quarter-final clash against Luca Brecel.
💬 “You have to punish your opponent”
Ding Junhui capitalised on missed opportunities to beat Jack Lisowski 6-1 in the first round of the @dafabet Masters tonight.
It’s the second match he’s won since lifting the title in 2011 #DafabetMasters pic.twitter.com/Ml2W0Oc57o
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) January 14, 2019
Fans of Ding will be desperately hoping that this victory can help to breathe life into his campaign, which has been otherwise forgettable up until this point.
Ding has won 13 ranking titles but his career has fluctuated between immense highs and painful lows.
A return of only three Triple Crown titles – Ding has won the UK Championship twice – is a small return for a player of his pedigree.
Ding is still young enough to see that dramatically change but it is around now when he’ll need to reestablish himself as a major force or risk, in time, becoming a forgotten figure in terms of challenging for major honours.
With his Masters campaign off to an unusually decent start, Ding will again be the favourite against Belgium’s Brecel before a possible mouthwatering semi-final with Ronnie O’Sullivan to come.
It was during the 2007 final to O’Sullivan when Ding’s toil with emotions initially became apparent and, even though his temperament has hugely improved since then, it’s an area that he can always struggle with.
With hundreds of millions passionately following his progress back in China, the pressure on Ding’s shoulders has always been high.
Whether he can find a way to deal with that again while also conjuring up his best performances is one of snooker’s ever-present conundrums.