Ronnie O’Sullivan came from 3-1 down to beat Ben Woollaston 6-4 in his opening match at the International Championship in Chengdu, China.
Five-time World Champion O’Sullivan, whose only previous match at a ranking event venue this season was a 5-3 defeat to Alan McManus at the Shanghai Masters, looked in danger of another early exit when world number 39 Woollaston won three of the first four frames with a top break of 74.
But O’Sullivan hit back after the interval, making a 124 in the fifth frame then nicking the next on a respotted black before knocking in 87 and 97 to lead 5-3. Woollaston pulled one back before O’Sullivan took frame ten to set up a last 32 meeting with Anthony McGill.
“Ben has been a good player for the past two or three years so it was a tough match,” said world number four O’Sullivan. “He was cueing well at the beginning and put me under some pressure.
“For me it was good to be able to come back and get a result. I was a bit shaky at the beginning and missed a few pots. If I had lost I couldn’t have been too disappointed because I didn’t play well. If I play well and lose then I’m worried. When you play regular matches then you find a groove, but I haven’t played a lot over the last six months and it shows.
“If I’m not playing as many events as the others, when I do play I need to get results, so there is a bit of pressure on me. By the end of the season, if I’ve won the World Championship again I’ll be saying I’ve had a great season.”
China’s Li Hang scored the shock of the opening day at the £625,000 event by beating four-time World Champion John Higgins 6-1. Higgins won the second frame with a break of 69 before Li reeled off five in a row with top runs of 70 and 93.
“I’ve been practising since the qualifier last month and the Haining Open last week was a good warm-up. I think I’m in form,” said Li. “I was pretty nervous during the opening frame but after the interval I was getting better. I’m pleased by the way I played in general.
“John wasn’t playing as great as he used to and I just played my normal game. I played on the professional when I was 18 and after two years I dropped off. I used to doubt myself and lost interest in snooker at that time. It’s great to have my parents supporting me all the way and I wouldn’t have achieved this without their help.”
In-form Stuart Bingham, who won the Asian Tour event in Haining, beat Robbie Williams 6-4, while Barry Hawkins saw off Jimmy White by the same scoreline. Mark Allen thrashed Nigel Bond 6-0 while Mark Williams beat amateur Oliver Brown 6-1.
Allen said: “Early on it was a bit scrappy though there was lots of good safety. I hung in there and felt in control of myself. From 2-0 I dominated the whole game, scored heavily and didn’t miss many chances.
“There was a lot of movement in the crowd which is something you never get used to in China. It can put you off. It was very warm in the arena so conditions were a bit sticky. But I handled it well.
“I’ve played in four events this season and had three finals and I think anyone on the tour would take that. But I’m my own biggest critic and I don’t want to lose finals, but I’ve lost two of those three.
“This is the biggest event in China. Best of 11 makes a big difference to best of nine because it gives the top players more time to settle. Plus there’s big money on offer. If I play the way I did today I’ve got a chance.”
In the wildcard round, promising Chinese amateur Zhao Xintong came from 4-1 down to edge out Jamie Jones 6-5. He said: “I’ve played as a wildcard in Chengdu three times and won every time.
“I’ve played many wildcard matches and my mindset is getting better. My tactical game is much better than it used to be so I leave less chances to my opponents. I’m confident about my scoring which helps me to win these wildcard rounds.”