Mark Selby came through a marathon battle against Sam Baird, winning 13-11 to reach the quarter-finals of the Betfred World Championship.
World number one Selby might have expected an easier ride against a player 58 places below him in the rankings, but it took eight hours and 34 minutes before Selby finally ended the resistance of qualifier Baird. Selby lost four frames in a row from 11-7 but was able to regroup and win the last two frames.
Leicester’s Selby, hoping to repeat his Crucible triumph of 2014, now faces Mark Allen or Kyren Wilson in the last eight.
Selby looked in fine form tonight as he won the first two frames of the concluding session with breaks of 134 and 84 to extend his lead from 9-7 to 11-7. But Devon’s Baird won a scrappy 19th frame to launch his fight back and added the next with runs of 35 and 38 to make it 11-9 at the interval.
Selby had a chance to win frame 21 but missed the final brown along the side cushion to a baulk corner and his opponent took advantage to close the gap further. The next lasted 49 minutes and was eventually settled when Baird potted the penultimate red to a top corner.
Selby dominated frame 23 to regain the lead, and he potted a long red at the start of the next to set up a break of 54. Baird clawed his way back into the frame and had a chance to clear after fluking the penultimate red, but when he potted the yellow he snookered himself behind the blue. A brief safety exchange ended when Selby potted the green, and Baird was then unable to get the snookers he needed.
“I seem to make every match hard for myself, whether I’m a few frames in front or not,” said Selby. “It was a strange really, in some parts I felt okay and scored well, and in other parts I was very poor.
“My safety, which is one of my strengths, was very poor throughout. Sam played great, he put me under pressure and played some great snooker. He’s number 59 in the world, but he’s better than that.
“I was missing balls that I wouldn’t normally miss, and Sam seemed to be getting stronger. At 11-11 if I had been someone else sat watching, I would have made Sam favourite. I didn’t play in the last two tournaments so my match sharpness isn’t there, I’m inconsistent and it’s something I need to work on. I’m still in the tournament and I can still improve.”
Baird said: “The last session was so mentally draining, I’ve never been so exhausted over a game of snooker. There were a lot of long frames and I won some of them, which is hard to do against Mark. It was a messy game, and every time I got to the table it felt so difficult, it was hard work.
“In the last frame it was a pretty sexy fluke on the second last red, Mark would have been sick if I had cleared up from there.
“To have a close game against Mark over three sessions makes me think my game has come on more than expected over the last three years. I’ve gone up the rankings fairly nicely and I’ve got some breathing room now.”
Meanwhile, John Higgins took a 5-3 lead over Ricky Walden in the first session of their second round match.
The first four frames were shared, Walden making a break of 102 in the fourth. Higgins then dominated the next two with a top run of 65 to go 4-2 up. Walden won the seventh but four-time champion Higgins made a 107 in the last of the session to give himself an overnight lead. They resume at 2.30pm on Sunday.