Former world champions Peter Ebdon and Mark Williams are through to the last-16 stage of the Honghe Industrial China Open.
But while the duo both had convincing 5-1 victories at the Beijing Sports Gymnasium, fellow Crucible kings John Higgins and Shaun Murphy were forced to produce battling displays to get through.
Current world champion Higgins eventually emerged a 5-4 winner after a tense final-frame victory over Ulsterman Joe Swail, while Murphy held his concentration to edge past experienced Stoke professional Dave Harold with a 5-3 win.
With former world champions Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Graeme Dott having already fallen at the first hurdle, the pressure was on their fellow Crucible conquerors to reach the last 16.
For Welshman Williams, whose top-32 place has been in jeopardy, he could not have wished for a better performance.
Despite having lost the opening frame of his match with Scottish qualifier Marcus Campbell, Williams quickly raised his game and pocketed breaks of 66, 110, 101, 49 and 40 to deservedly progress.
“That was a really good win for me,” reflected a delighted Williams. “I needed to win to stay in the top 32, so hopefully this will be the springboard for more victories before the end of the season.
“It takes a while to adjust to coming to China, but I came out a few days before the tournament started. I have a good record here and the crowds are always good so I like playing here.
“That has to be one of the best matches I have played for a few months, so I can hopefully go on and play well in this tournament.”
Williams is the most successful player in tournaments in the Far East, having won five ranking events on the continent.
He triumphed at this venue two years ago, beating Higgins 9-8 in a final which went down to the last few balls.
In similar vein to Williams’ victory, Ebdon impressed to put out last year’s runner-up Jamie Cope, the promising Stoke player.
Cope, who lost out to Glaswegian Dott in last season’s final, won a scrappy opener, before Ebdon kept his concentration to win the next two frames on the final black ball.
From there the 2002 world champion impressed with breaks of 50, 99 and 74 to earn himself a mouth-watering match with Williams in the next phase.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” said Ebdon. He then joked: “It’s the first match I have won overseas since 1973!
“It’s just nice to win, the table was very good and the cloth was very light. It’s fantastic for me and all the other players to see what a great effort the Chinese federation and everyone else have put in to make this a great tournament.”
Higgins’ path to the last 16 proved a tough one. The world number one was taken the distance by Swail, but despite mustering one break over 50, he still managed to win.
Belfast’s Swail had runs of 56, 40 and 44, but Higgins went through to meet Londoner Mark King in the next round tomorrow with breaks of 61 and 45.
Rotherham’s Murphy, winner of this season’s Malta Cup title and the most consistent player on the circuit having reached an impressive four ranking event semi-finals, was understandably relieved with his 5-3 win against Harold. He plays Chinese favourite Ding Junhui tomorrow.
“I’m very pleased to have won,” admitted Murphy. “I’m not flying halfway around the world to lose in the first round. It’s great to be through to the second round.”