Flu-stricken Ronnie O’Sullivan admitted he could “barely focus on the balls” during his first round tie with Luke Simmonds at the Betway UK Championship but he still managed a 6-1 victory.
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O’Sullivan won this title for the sixth time last year to equal the record set by Steve Davis so one more would put him out on his own with seven. He is also level with Stephen Hendry on 18 Triple Crown titles so another piece of history is up for grabs for the Rocket in York.
And despite a slow start today the 42-year-old had little trouble in booking a last-64 match with Ken Doherty, on Sunday at 1pm.
Amateur Simmonds, who works part-time in a factory making car parts, looked as if he could manufacture a massive shock when he took the first frame with a break of 56. But O’Sullivan gradually took control, taking two scrappy frames to lead 2-1.
The 33-time ranking event winner then stepped up a gear and rattled through the last four frames in just 50 minutes with breaks of 97, 118, 112 and 77. The brace of centuries brought his career tally of tons to 980.
“I must have a virus because I felt awful today, at one point I wasn’t sure if I could get through the match because I couldn’t even focus on the balls,” said O’Sullivan, who has already won the Shanghai Masters and Champion of Champions this season. “I had to just grind it out. It felt like one of the hardest matches I have ever had to play.
“Every shot felt like a black ball in the world final. My back hand was shaking and I kept thinking I was going to feather the white because I couldn’t focus. I am struggling now just to keep my eyes open. I know I’m good but I can’t avoid getting flu!”
As for his opponent, O’Sullivan added: “I can’t believe Luke is a factory worker because he’s got more shots than 80% of the players on the tour. He’s got talent and he would beat a lot of players. He played as if he had nothing to lose today and played some lovely stuff.
“I could have lost today and if I had done I would have had to accept that’s how snooker is now. I’d take losing in ten first rounds this season if it meant winning three trophies. I’m not a quarter-finals or last 16 man, for me it’s all about wins and there are probably only a handful of players who have that attitude. Once the wins dry up then you won’t see me around.”
Sam Baird enjoyed a tremendous come back from 5-1 down to beat Liang Wenbo 6-5 with a top break of 90. “At 5-1 down I was thinking about my first pint,” said world number 105 Baird. “Liang played so well to go 5-1 up, he potted every long ball and made big breaks. I was just admiring him, thinking there was nothing I could do about it.
“Usually I would fall apart, it’s easy to do that when you have no rhythm. But I still felt I could do something if I got chances. When I started coming back at him I knew it would be a horrific feeling for him. At 5-4 I knew he’d be panicking. It’s got to be my best ever come back.”
Stephen Maguire, the 2004 UK Champion, recovered a 3-1 deficit to beat Germany’s Simon Lichtenberg 6-3. Glasgow’s Maguire took the last five frames with a top break of 82.
Barry Hawkins beat Jamie Clarke 6-0 with a top break of 76 while 2003 UK Champion Matthew Stevens saw off Ross Muir 6-4 with a top run of 102.
Luca Brecel top scored with 103 as he came from 3-0 down to beat Fan Zhengyi 6-4 while Iran’s Hossein Vafaei edged out York’s Ashley Hugill 6-5.
China’s Yan Bingtao made a 106 in a 6-1 defeat of Lukas Kleckers while 2006 UK Champion Peter Ebdon made a 103 in a 6-2 win over Chris Totten.