Tough start as Rocket fails to fire

Ronnie O’Sullivan suffered an early scare when he began the defence of his Embassy world title in Sheffield this morning against Scotland’s Stephen Maguire.

Ronnie O’Sullivan suffered an early scare when he began the defence of his Embassy world title in Sheffield this morning against Scotland’s Stephen Maguire.

The world number one is attempting to become the first player for nine years to retain the trophy but Glaswegian Maguire had no fears in tackling the Rocket, especially after beating him twice earlier in the season.

O’Sullivan knew he was in for a tough day, especially when the 24-year-old Scot claimed the opening frames.

Maguire, beaten 10-6 by his Essex rival at the same stage 12 months ago, looked perfectly at ease in only his second appearance at The Crucible.

The champion did not pot a ball in the opening frame and Maguire’s break of 59 gave him a 2-0 advantage.

O’Sullivan responded quickly to the mini-crisis with 72 to claim frame three 80-17.

And he obtained parity before the mid-session interval, though it was not without incident.

He allowed Maguire to recover from 40-0 down and showed his annoyance at one stage by kicking the table. That recalled memories of last year’s campaign when he was fortunate to escape disciplinary action for a series of obscene hand gestures.

It wasn’t until the arrival of six-times champion Ray Reardon at the quarter-final stage that O’Sullivan settled down and focused his hair-trigger temperament on the snooker.

After taking out his frustration on a table leg he eventually took the frame 72-40 to repair the early damage.

However, O’Sullivan has plenty of time to calm down and impose his authority on proceedings.

The pair have another five frames to play in the opening session before returning at 7pm to complete the match with 10 further frames.

On the adjoining table Anthony Hamilton and David Gray were progressing at a much more sedate pace.

Gray, who stunned O’Sullivan in 2000 with a 10-9 win, took the opening frame.

And he stole the second on the black as Hamilton, beaten by O’Sullivan in the last eight 12 months ago, let slip a 59-33 advantage.

The second frame though became an early contender for the longest of the tournament; 41 minutes had elapsed until Gray sank the final ball.

Their game isn’t due for completion until Sunday morning, though at the current rate it could run into an unscheduled third session.

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