Ronnie O’Sullivan overhauled Stephen Maguire’s three-frame overnight lead to come through a 10-7 winner in their opening round clash at the Betfred World Championship.
O’Sullivan is enjoying a career-best season in terms of ranking title victories. He has equalled the record jointly held by Stephen Hendry, Ding Junhui and Mark Selby of five ranking crowns in a single campaign.
Victory at the Crucible this year would not only see the Rocket break that record, but he would also historically eclipse Stephen Hendry’s 18 Triple Crown titles and draw level with Steve Davis and Ray Reardon on six World Championship wins.
Five-time Crucible king O’Sullivan and former UK Champion Maguire have now met on 22 occasions. O’Sullivan has dominated the vast majority of those meetings with today’s victory being his 18th compared to the Scot’s four wins.
Maguire outplayed O’Sullivan in the opening session yesterday; he was 4-0 up and ended 6-3 ahead. However, 33-time ranking event winner O’Sullivan landed several key blows in the early exchanges this morning to turn the tide.
With the score at 6-4, Maguire had looked set to restore his three frame advantage but he broke down on 49, missing a straightforward red. O’Sullivan punished him with a sublime clearance of 86 to pull within one frame.
World number 18 Maguire then had a chance to steal the next frame on the colours, but left the final pink in the jaws of the top right pocket and allowed world number two O’Sullivan to draw level at 6-6.
Maguire did regain the lead in the 13th frame but from there O’Sullivan charged to the finish, taking four in a row with top runs of 53 and 77 to win 10-7.
“The first session was so embarrassing, I felt like giving the fans their money back,” said O’Sullivan, who now meets Ali Carter or Graeme Dott in the last 16. “I wanted to battle through, and make the scoreline a bit respectable. When I got three frames on the board I went home thinking, I’ve had a result really. It gave me a little bit of belief today.”
At the age of 42, O’Sullivan is playing perhaps the best snooker of his career, and he insists that is partly due to an improved diet.
“The biggest thing for me this year is how I’ve tackled how I eat,” he added. “I’m amazed by how good I feel and how healthy I am, it’s unbelievable. I’ve always been fit, but through injuries I couldn’t run as much and I ballooned up to nearly 15 stone. I’m down to 13 stone now, so I’ve lost two stone and I haven’t exercised any more than usual.
“I’ve changed what I eat, I’m never hungry, and I’ve got massive amounts of energy. I’d never thought I’d like celery, but I’m eating so much of it now. I suppose compared to the average person in Britain, I’ll always look well because we aren’t the healthiest society. If you go to other continents, they eat proper food, whereas over here it’s all pre-packed meals and that’s why we have a problem with obesity.
“I’m ready for the next 40 years. They have a saying in China, you get two lives: 0 to 40 and then 40 to 80. I’m ready for the 40-80.”
Maguire said: “I only had the lead because Ronnie was so bad yesterday. I was under no illusions that I was playing well enough to be 6-3 up, so I wasn’t surprised when he came out today because I knew he would improve and he did, while I stayed the same. There were two frames that I could have nicked to make it 8-5 but that doesn’t mean I would have won the match from then.
“Ronnie never gives up against me. I’ve seen him in matches throw in the towel, I wish he would do that with me! He has giving me some hidings in the past which were good to watch but that match was there for the taking if I had stepped it up.
“I am accepting it now that I’ll be outside the top 16 and qualifying for this one. The odds are that I’ll be floating around the top 32 for the next few years. I just have to accept that these boys are a step better than me. It’s hard to accept but it is accepted.
“These players have improved where as I have probably just stayed the same. It shows because I’ve not won a tournament in years and even then, I’ve only won a few.”
On the other table, Masters champion Mark Allen established a 6-3 overnight lead over Liam Highfield.
Allen opened with a break of 88 then Crucible debutant Highfield responded impressively with a run of 99. Northern Ireland’s Allen, the 16th seed, then pulled away by taking five of the next six frames with top runs of 56, 80, 52 and 89.
The last frame of the session also looked likely to go Allen’s way until he missed the final green after potting the last red leading 52-40. Highfield took advantage to reduce his deficit. They play to a finish from 10am on Monday.