Ronnie O’Sullivan suffered his first televised defeat of 2016 as he lost 4-3 to Michael Holt in the opening round of the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix.
O’Sullivan has won the Masters and Welsh Open within the past two months – as well as reaching the final of the non-televised Championship League – and was rated favourite for the £100,000 top prize in Llandudno. But he was outplayed by world number 31 Holt and O’Sullivan now faces a six-week gap without competitive action before heading to the World Championship in April.
Nottingham’s Holt dominated the early stages and surged into a 3-0 lead with top breaks of 88 and 119. World number four O’Sullivan then reeled off three frames in 26 minutes with a top run of 82 to make it 3-3.
Holt made 34 early in the decider then came out on top of a tactical battle as O’Sullivan missed a difficult and risky pot on a red to a centre pocket. That proved his last shot as Holt added 76 to seal the result.
“It would have been great just to beat him in a snooker club, so to beat him on live TV is one of my best ever wins,” said 37-year-old Holt, who now meets Liang Wenbo or Graeme Dott. “He’s the best player in the world and it’s great to beat him in a high quality match. I know I can play like that, I just need to produce it more consistently. I expected him to come back at me from 3-0 and I didn’t get many chances until 3-3. Then I composed myself well in the last frame to knock the balls in. I’m only in the last 16 so I’m going to be very boring and say I’ve just got to concentrate on my next game.”
O’Sullivan said: “I wasn’t really on form tonight. I gave it my best and I was pleased by the way I stuck in there and tried to turn it around. I couldn’t have got any more out of myself. My game just wasn’t strong enough to over-ride whatever Michael was doing. He scored well and I didn’t get much of a look in for the first three frames. He deserved to win. I won the Masters even though I was abysmal that week, then I had one good week at the Welsh Open. I’ve just been papering over the cracks and I need to find some sort of consistency if I’m to have any chance of a decent run in Sheffield. I need to do some work over the next few weeks.”
John Higgins eased to a 4-0 win in a tartan tussle against Stephen Maguire, making top breaks of 92, 54, 69 and 79.
Higgins is seeking his third ranking title of the season having won the Australian Goldfields Open and International Championship.
The result leaves Maguire in deeper danger of dropping out of the top 16 when the seeding axe falls ahead of the World Championship. He could need a deep run in the China Open to avoid having to qualify for the Crucible.
Higgins said: “I’m really happy with the way I played. I didn’t miss much and I think Stephen only missed one ball. This is a big tournament so I just wanted to get through the first round so I can play my way into it. I drew the short straw, having to face Stephen in the first round.
“This was a big game for him and he’ll need a good run in the China Open now otherwise he’s out of the top 16. The likes of him and Ding Junhui could both be in the qualifiers and if they get through then none of the top 16 will want to draw them. It just shows how tough the game is getting now that those two could have to qualify. There are that many good players and only 16 of them can be sure of going to the Crucible.”
Higgins now meets Ryan Day, who saw off Matthew Selt 4-1 with a top break of 80. Mark Allen scored a 4-2 win over David Grace,