The Rocket was slow to lift off but finished with a bang.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is through to the last 16 of the 2021 World Snooker Championship after a comprehensive 10-4 triumph against Mark Joyce on the opening day at the Crucible Theatre.
As is tradition, the defending champion launched the tournament with O’Sullivan bidding for a seventh world crown that would see him draw level with Stephen Hendry’s 22-year record.
It was an inauspicious start as both players struggled to produce any kind of sustainable form during the first session, with the conditions of the table playing a factor as well.
At one point it looked as though O’Sullivan was going to get drawn into an undesirable scrap, but he won the last two frames of the morning’s play to establish a 6-3 lead.
Joyce, one of only two first-timers in the draw this year, managed to pull one back upon the evening’s restart, but his esteemed opponent finally clicked into gear thereafter.
A run of 58 for O’Sullivan made it 7-4 before a brace of excellent century breaks – a 124 followed by a 137 – took him to within one of victory at the last mid-session interval.
The world number two duly booked his spot in the second round of the competition in Sheffield in the next frame with a third century on the trot, an excellent contribution of 112.
Either Anthony McGill or Ricky Walden will be the next challenge for O’Sullivan to overcome in his pursuit of a rare record that he doesn’t already possess.
Elsewhere on day one, Neil Robertson produced a solid afternoon’s shift to pull clear of Liang Wenbo and lead 6-3 after their initial exchanges.
The Australian, one of the pre-tournament favourites on the back of his previous successes this season in the UK and Tour Championships, compiled a 108 and four more breaks above 50 to lead Liang in what is a repeat of their first-round fixture from 2020.
Masters champion Yan Bingtao is locked at 4-4 with Martin Gould, qualifier Jamie Jones ended 5-4 in front of Stephen Maguire having trailed at one point by three frames, while David Gilbert built up an imposing 7-2 advantage against Chris Wakelin.
Meanwhile, the Crucible Theatre welcomed a crowd into the arena, the first time this season that snooker has entertained its supporters live.
The sport is participating in a pilot scheme by the UK government that could lead the way to the easing of restrictions that are currently in place across both sporting and entertainment venues.
A 33% capacity is in operation for the last 32, but there is expected to be a staggered increase throughout the tournament with the final set to host a full house in Sheffield.
Featured photo credit: WST