Amateur James Cahill pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Crucible history, to defeat world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-8 at the Betfred World Championship in Sheffield.
23-year-old Cahill came through qualifying to secure his World Championship debut and become the first ever amateur to compete at the Crucible. He has now inflicted O’Sullivan’s first opening round defeat since 2003, when he lost out to Marco Fu. The Rocket has only lost at this stage four times in his entire career.
The magnitude of the upset is amplified by five-time World Champion O’Sullivan’s superb season heading into this year’s event. He’s entered tournaments sparingly, but has won five of the 11 he has taken part in. The 36-time ranking event winner lifted silverware at the 2018 Shanghai Masters, 2018 Champion of Champions, 2018 UK Championship, 2019 Players Championship and the 2019 Tour Championship.
First Round Crucible Shocks
Tony Knowles 10-1 Steve Davis (1982)
Stuart Bingham 10-7 Stephen Hendry (2000)
David Gray 10-9 Ronnie O’Sullivan (2000)
Michael Wasley 10-9 Ding Junhui (2014)
Rory McLeod 10-8 Judd Trump (2017)
James Cahill 10-8 Ronnie O’Sullivan (2019)
Blackpool’s Cahill is no stranger to giant killing victories, having beaten Ding Junhui and Mark Selby at the UK Championship, in 2014 and 2018 respectively. Despite competing this week as an amateur, he had previously spent four seasons as a professional, before dropping off the tour in 2017.
Cahill has already ensured his professional status for next season. He’s amassed enough money on the one-year ranking list, in appearances as a Q School top up, to earn a two-year tour card starting next term.
They came into this morning’s concluding session with Cahill holding a surprise 5-4 advantage. O’Sullivan stamped his authority in the opening frame with an imposing break of 97.
However, Cahill showed his steel and refused to buckle in his first appearance in the Crucible cauldron. He responded with a break of 84 to regain the lead at 6-5, before claiming the following two frames to lead 8-5 at the mid-session.
When they returned O’Sullivan turned up the heat and made breaks of 104 and 89, on his way to three frames in a row to make it 8-8. As the finishing line came into vision for both players, they then battled it out in a hugely dramatic 17th frame.
Cahill got in first with a contribution of 62, before breaking down on a straightforward red. O’Sullivan appeared to be in position to punish the mistake, but landed on the wrong side of the final pink and missed it on a break of 53. Cahill eventually deposited the pink and potted a tough black to move one from victory at 9-8.
O’Sullivan had the first opportunity in the following frame, but broke down on 42. Cahill held his nerve and made a steely clearance of 53 to secure the biggest win of his career. He will now face Stephen Maguire in the last 16.
Cahill said: “I was a bit nervous when I went out there, but after that I settled really well. I felt like I was playing another tournament, which I think was a big part of it. He started coming back at me, but that is what you expect from Ronnie. I made a couple of good breaks to get back into a flow. He was under a lot of pressure himself. He didn’t want to lose to me and I’m just glad I managed to hold myself together and win at the end there.
“You’ve got to believe you can beat anyone. I’ve got a lot of respect for Ronnie, he is such a great player and is my idol really. But there’s only so much respect you can have for these people, because at the end of the day you’ve got to go out there and beat them. If I had too much respect, then I probably wouldn’t have cleared up at the end.
“I won’t be losing to Stephen Maguire for the sake of being flat. If he outplays me, then fair enough. When I beat Ding in the UK Championship, I did all these interviews and then was flat coming out the following day. I’ve learned from that and matured as a person and a player.”
O’Sullivan said: “I will look back and think that it has been a very successful season. I treat every tournament I play in like the World Championship. This one just wasn’t meant to be.
“I thought he did well, especially in the last couple of frames. He potted a good pink and black. That clearance at the end was a very good clearance. He held himself together well playing at the Crucible.
“I just felt a little bit under the weather. My legs are like lead and my arms feel really heavy. I’m not making excuses, I just felt absolutely exhausted to be honest. I tried to do as much as I could, to hang in there and see if I could manage to somehow get through the match, and after I few days I might have felt better. But it wasn’t meant to be.”
On the other table, Stuart Bingham moved to within two frames of the second round as he went 8-1 up on Graeme Dott.
The battle between the two former champions started slowly, with Bingham taking two of the first three scrappy frames. He then stepped up the pace by taking six in a row with breaks of 90, 56, 80, 107, 56 and 96.
Bingham, who has already won two ranking titles this season, will face John Higgins in the last 16 if he can get to ten first when they resume at 7pm.