Ronnie O’Sullivan was straight into an ominous groove as he opened a commanding lead over Robin Hull in their Dafabet World Championship first-round clash.
It was proving as one-sided as Hull, the world number 122, must have privately feared, with defending champion O’Sullivan, 7-2 ahead, looking set to complete a crushing victory in Saturday’s evening session at the Crucible.
Finnish potter Hull retired in 2008 after coming down with a life-threatening virus, but he felt able to return three years later and has played sporadically since.
It was by overcoming a one-time nemesis of O’Sullivan, Peter Ebdon, that Hull won through the final qualifying stage on Wednesday.
Yet the 39-year-old, playing at the World Championship for just the second time in his career, 12 years after a debut appearance, found the going tough against the man chasing a sixth title in Sheffield, and a third in succession.
O’Sullivan ploughed in a total clearance of 124 in the second frame, adding 69, 81, 60 and 90 as he moved three frames away from the second round.
Looking at ease in the familiar environment, O’Sullivan was being watched by his sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, the man he credits with spurring him to the last two world titles. Peters has also been enlisted by the Liverpool and England football teams, so successful have his associations proven with Britain’s Olympic cyclists and O’Sullivan.
Hull had his moments in the session, most notably the 102 break that followed O’Sullivan’s century and got him on the scoreboard.
Yet it was a match that appeared to have a pre-destined outcome, and taking into account the early evidence there was nothing to suggest the narrative might include a twist in the later concluding session.
Indeed there might have been a real moment to savour in the final frame of the session. By taking seven reds and blacks at the beginning of the ninth frame, O’Sullivan had an eye on a 147 break, but he could only take blue off the eighth red and eventually settled for 90, more than enough for the 38-year-old to open the five-frame gap.
The 1997 world champion Ken Doherty kissed the theatre's carpet on his way into the arena for his tussle with Stuart Bingham.
Doherty has failed to qualify in three of the last five years but earned a place this time by beating last year’s clown prince of the Crucible, Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng.
The 44-year-old, the oldest man in the draw, was in trouble when he fell 3-0 behind Bingham, but the ’Darling of Dublin’, who usually presents a radio show on Saturday mornings, made his presence felt as he mounted a fightback.
The session was in the balance until Bingham pinched the eighth frame to guarantee himself a lead. It will be with only a slender advantage that he resumes on Sunday, however, after Doherty took frame nine with a flourish to trail 5-4 overnight.