Ronnie O’Sullivan showed a little rust but it was largely superficial as he set about the defence of his Betfair World Championship title in impressive style today.
Armed with a 7-2 lead from the opening session of his clash with Scotland’s Marcus Campbell,
O’Sullivan was left needing only three more frames tonight to reach the second round at the Crucible.
Assuming that proves little problem, the 37-year-old will have his first win since last year’s final in Sheffield.
Since battering Ali Carter to carry off his fourth World Championship title, O’Sullivan has taken a career hiatus that he intended to run longer than it has.
Announcing in November he would be sitting out the rest of the season, O’Sullivan had a change of heart by February, and despite turning up with no match preparation under his belt he was proving too strong for Campbell.
Breaks of 82, 62, 71, 85, 86 and 58 indicated O’Sullivan had it all his way, but the reality was somewhat different.
Campbell held commanding leads in the third, fourth and fifth frames and contrived to lose all three.
A raucous reception greeted O’Sullivan as he strode out shortly after 10am, and he responded with some early magic as his friend, the artist Damien Hirst, watched on.
For a while, the return seemed to be progressing in a dreamlike manner. O’Sullivan had four reds, four blacks at the start of the opening frame, and if a maximum 147 break did not enter his mind, it certainly did others.
O’Sullivan took blue off the fifth red, so it would not be a fairytale opening frame, but he still progressed serenely towards what looked sure to be a century.
He reached 82 but missed his next red, thus reducing it to a frame-winning break and nothing more.
He managed to lose the next frame from 49-0 ahead as Campbell levelled, but the 40-year-old from Erskine then began to make a habit of wasting substantial leads himself.
Runs of 26 and 25 moved Campbell nicely in front in the third, but O’Sullivan pinched it with his run to 62.
O’Sullivan was 59-0 adrift in frame four but the 71 left Campbell grimacing in his seat.
He pinched the next on the colours, after a 42-minute grind, before steaming four frames clear after Campbell failed to make a plant and was left to suffer in his seat.
The Scot managed to cut the gap as breaks of 54 and 41 gave him frame seven, but O’Sullivan’s 86, featuring one particularly exquisite left-handed pot on the pink that he played with screw and side, showed who was in charge. And O’Sullivan finished the session with a sixth half-century break –
Campbell again let a lead slip away – to ensure the scoreline would be heavily weighted in his favour when they resumed.
Curiously, Campbell is ranked a place higher than O’Sullivan – 27th to 28th - but that can be explained by the world champion’s inactivity this season.
On the other table, Chester’s Ricky Walden made a break of 140, making strong early running for the tournament’s £10,000 top-break prize, in building an 8-1 lead over Nottingham’s Michael Holt.
Walden led 6-0 and was briefly threatening to inflict only the second whitewash in Crucible history, after John Parrott’s 10-0 win over Eddie Charlton in 1992, but a 54 break from Holt saw him register a frame.
It had been a dismal session for qualifier Holt though, and tomorrow morning’s concluding session to that match was looking a formality.