Ronnie O’Sullivan kick started the Home Nations series with a win – but was made to work for a hard-fought 4-3 victory over Jamie O’Neill in the English Open on Monday.
The “Rocket”, competing on home soil for the first time since suffering a surprise loss in the first round of the World Championship in April, appeared to be in trouble early on when his opponent established a 2-0 cushion.
Breaks of 90 and 102 restored parity but the 2017 champion was adrift again when a run of 59 from O’Neill brought him to within one frame of a famous triumph.
But despite O’Neill having openings in the remaining frames, O’Sullivan managed to reverse the deficit with breaks of 54 and 81 helping him through to the second round in Crawley.
O’Sullivan, who won the invitational Shanghai Masters last month in China, is bidding to eclipse Stephen Hendry’s long-standing record tally of 36 ranking crowns this week at the K2.
It was a busy first day of action as the Home Nations series was launched for a fourth successive season.
Reigning English Open champion Stuart Bingham had an equally tough battle, trading three tons with Kacper Filipiak before edging the Polish player in a decider as well.
Judd Trump’s passage through was easier on paper but his 4-0 scoreline over Peter Ebdon was not reflective of what was a scrappy match as the world champion struggled to hit second gear in an error-strewn affair.
Trump already has a ranking title to his name this season, winning the China Championship en route to regaining top spot in the world rankings list.
Having already won the International Championship this season, world champion @judd147t is looking to kick on.
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) October 14, 2019
In that title decider, Trump thumped Shaun Murphy but it’s the latter who has arguably represented the player of the season so far following his additional final appearances in both Shanghai and again in Daqing for the International Championship, which of course the “Magician” emerged victorious in.
Murphy continued his hot streak with a 4-2 success against Chang Bingyu while fellow Englishman Mark Selby repeated that scoreline in ousting veteran Barry Pinches.
Meanwhile, there were quite a few upsets as the short best of seven format that is utilised for the early rounds of the Home Nations tournaments once again acted as a leveller.
Ding Junhui’s miserable spell on the circuit continued, squandering a 2-0 lead in an eventual 4-3 defeat to Dominic Dale.
Former ranking event champions Ali Carter and Anthony McGill also bowed out at the first hurdle with respective losses to Alan McManus and Chris Wakelin.
Elsewhere, Riga Masters champion Yan Bingtao’s brace of century breaks proved irrelevant as he was dispatched of by Mei Xiwen in another clash that went the distance.
One other standout victory was the superb 4-2 triumph that amateur wildcard Ryan Davies enjoyed over Lei Peifan.
The 17 year-old took advantage of what was undoubtedly a kind draw against one of the tour’s rookies, but a much bigger last 64 tie against either David Gilbert or Stuart Carrington awaits.
Among some of the other players to advance were Barry Hawkins and Joe Perry, who by contrast to most of the other star names weren’t as troubled by their lower ranked opposition.
Chinese duo Zhou Yuelong and Xiao Guodong edged through while there were victories too for Jimmy Robertson, Anthony Hamilton, and Michael Holt.
The likes of Neil Robertson, Mark Williams, Mark Allen, and Jimmy White enter the fray on Tuesday.