David Gilbert’s 2019/20 campaign got off to a poor start with the Englishman losing 4-3 to Ian Preece in the Riga Masters qualifiers on Wednesday at Ponds Forge.
Sheffield had provided Gilbert with plenty of lifelong memories to savour in April and May thanks to his unexpected run to the last four of the World Championship.
Gilbert’s return to the city following his dramatic 17-16 reverse to John Higgins in the semi-finals last month didn’t provide him with the immediate response he was looking for, though.
Likely still rusty after the recent downtime, Gilbert somewhat inexplicably squandered a 3-0 advantage against former professional Preece – who was making up the numbers as a top-up.
A solitary break over 50 helped Preece along his way but the Welshman emerged with an unlikely success after prevailing in a succession of close and scrappy frames.
There’ll be bigger and more lucrative tests for Gilbert to come this season but, after twice missing out on a maiden ranking triumph last season in finals and with the field for Latvia weakened in the midst of several non-entries, this result could represent a missed opportunity of sorts.
Meanwhile, another Crucible semi-finalist managed to survive under similar circumstances with Gary Wilson holding off Chris Wakelin’s challenge to progress in a decider.
With seeded protection for only the top 16, another interesting tie had two of last term’s ranking event winners cross paths.
And it was Indian Open champion Matthew Selt who got the better of Jimmy Robertson, winner of last year’s European Masters, courtesy of a 4-2 scoreline.
Former world champion Peter Ebdon couldn’t withstand the heavy scoring from the fast-improving Joe O’Connor, gallantly fighting back from 3-1 down only to lose a close final frame.
It was much more straightforward for rookie Jackson Page, who got his professional tenure off to a positive start with a 4-0 hiding of Hammad Miah.
That bagel was matched by James Cahill, with the young Englishman easily dismantling veteran Jimmy White’s effort.
Elsewhere, Ben Woollaston edged Mark Davis 4-2 in one of the toughest fixtures on paper while Tom Ford thumped Alex Borg 4-0.
While Borg’s return to the professional circuit ended in disappointing fashion, the opposite was the case for David Grace after the Leeds cueist overcame Alfie Burden with the help of an excellent 131.
Chinese duo Lyu Haotian and Luo Honghao enjoyed victories over Jamie Clarke and Barry Pinches respectively.
Among the others to advance to the last 64, which will take place at the end of next month, were Kurt Maflin, Oliver Lines, Lee Walker, Daniel Wells, and Gerard Greene.
The Riga Masters qualifiers will conclude on Thursday with Barry Hawkins, Stuart Bingham, Shaun Murphy, and Kyren Wilson in action.