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World number three Neil Robertson suffered a first round exit as the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix got underway in Llandudno, losing 4-3 to Peter Ebdon in a clash of two former World Champions.
Ebdon is the oldest man in the field at the age of 45 but outlasted Robertson in a fierce battle to set up a last 16 clash with Ding Junhui.
Robertson led 1-0 and 2-1 but his opponent fought back to go 3-2 ahead. A break of 74 saw Australia’s Robertson force a decider, but Ebdon took it with an excellent run of 69.
“It was a tough match and I’m delighted to win,” said world number 30 Ebdon. “I butchered a few balls but it’s hard to get over the line when you haven’t been getting results. I was very focussed and felt I had a chance of winning. Things haven’t been going for me this season and I’m looking for consistency.”
Ebdon’s Hungarian wife Nora is in North Wales with him and he added: “Whatever happens we’re going to have a great week’s holiday. Llandudno is a beautiful place. It has a lovely energy around it and that’s something I can pick up since I started doing reiki. Nora wants to go zip wiring and bungee jumping tomorrow, which might not be good for my back but I’m not sure I can get out of it.”
China’s Ding scored a vital 4-3 win over Ben Woollaston in a nerve-racking finish. Ding trailed 2-1 and 3-2 but fought back to level then made a 61 in the decider. Woollaston had a chance to clear up but missed the final brown to a baulk corner when just four pots from victory. A relieved Ding potted the brown to clinch the result.
A string of disappointing results in ranking events this season has left Ding in danger of dropping out of the top 16 when the seeding axe falls for the World Championship in April. He is 19th on the projected list so needs a deep run either this week, at the Players Championship or the China Open to ensure his place at the Crucible.
“I was fighting hard and all the way through I believed I could win. I played well and if I keep doing that then everything will be fine,” said Ding, who has won 11 ranking events.
“I’m not looking at the rankings. I’m just trying to enjoy playing. I know the situation but there’s still a long way to go. There are three tournaments left and for now I’m focussed on this one.”
Joe Perry eased to a 4-0 win over Barry Hawkins with top breaks of 80 and 133.
German Masters champion Martin Gould kept his superb form going with a 4-0 victory over Tian Pengfei, knocking in breaks of 57, 56, 73 and 97.