Ronnie O’Sullivan squandered the chance of a lucrative maximum break on day one of the Betfred.com World Championship as he began his quest to become the first back-to-back winner since 1996.
The defending champion eased to a 10-5 victory against his fellow Essex player, and frequent practice partner, Stuart Bingham, to become the first player to reach the second round.
There were only fleeting glimpses of vintage O’Sullivan but he nevertheless outshone Bingham, and victory was never in any serious doubt once he set off on a burst of winning four frames in a row at the end of the first session.
O’Sullivan produced two centuries, one of which – a seven-minute 140 total clearance in the second frame – set down an early marker for the top-break prize.
His others were breaks of 104, in frame eight, and 103, in frame 14.
But there was cause for regret too, as O’Sullivan missed out on the maximum which could have been worth a record £304,000, when he missed a straightforward black in the ninth frame.
O’Sullivan would have landed a jackpot of £157,000 – £147,000 for the maximum, and £10,000 for the highest break prize – provided nobody else notched a 147 during the rest of the tournament.
The sponsors confirmed they would also have paid out £147,000 to the Sport Relief charity.
O’Sullivan potted 10 reds and nine blacks, but the 10th black wriggled out via the jaws of the top left pocket, to gasps of disappointment from the packed crowd at the Crucible and an expression of disbelief from the man behind the cue.
He still had a lead of 73, and soon made sure of the frame, which gave him a 6-3 interval advantage, but he would doubtless have gone to lunch far happier with a fourth Crucible maximum tucked away.
His 140 break had put him 2-0 ahead, but Bingham hit back with three consecutive frames before O’Sullivan’s four in a row put his fellow Essex cueman in his place.
Former world amateur champion Bingham defeated the then defending champion Stephen Hendry in the first round in 2000 and was looking for another major scalp.
But O’Sullivan managed to fend off his county colleague in the evening session, countering Bingham’s breaks of 80 and 100 with runs of 78 and 94 to ensure they shared the opening four frames.
That put O’Sullivan two frames from victory at 8-5, and his third century left him one away. He finished off with a clearance of 97 in the final frame.
He will next be in action on Thursday, against the winner of the match between Mark Allen and Martin Gould which starts tomorrow.
The first-round clash between seven-time champion Hendry and Mark Williams, a two-time winner, could go right to the wire tomorrow.
Welshman Williams produced a stirring comeback as he established a narrow 5-4 advantage after an enthralling first session.
In a repeat of the 1999 final, Hendry looked set to take a healthy lead into tomorrow’s concluding session as he went 4-1 up.
But Williams reeled off four frames in a row to establish a 5-4 lead, putting him halfway to victory in the best-of-19-frames tussle.
Despite turning 40 in January, Hendry came to Sheffield claiming he could win an eighth title, but he has plenty of work to do just to reach the last 16.
Both players were determined to prove their match was more than an exercise in nostalgia, and just like O’Sullivan in the morning session so Hendry also threatened a 147 break, before having to settle for 72.
Runs of 46 and 61 in the second and fourth frames meant Hendry led 3-1 at the interval, Williams having produced a swift 75 in the third.
After the resumption he extended his lead to 4-1 but Williams, 34, made breaks of 57, 44, 66 and 45 to seize command.
Another former champion was in a spot of trouble, with Scotland’s Graeme Dott trailing 5-4 in his tricky opener against England’s Barry Hawkins, who rattled in a break of 129 in the sixth frame.
The crowd for Mark King’s match against Rory McLeod must have wished they were on the opposite side of the arena, watching O’Sullivan and Bingham.
The pair were due to play nine frames in the morning but were hauled off after just six, due to the slow nature of their battle.
Their match was called to a halt after a 54-minute sixth frame, with tournament officials fearing they would not manage another before the scheduled start of the afternoon session.
The King-McLeod match finished 3-3.