Ronnie O’Sullivan battled to a 4-2 win over Matthew Stevens to book his place in the last 16 of the Northern Ireland Open.
It was not vintage snooker from either player at Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena, which is playing host to the event due to Covid-19 restrictions, but O’Sullivan was able to get over the line to set up a meeting with Thepchaiya Un-Nooh later on Thursday.
Stevens began the match with an excellent long red, but it was not a bellwether as the contest became scrappy on a table that Judd Trump had earlier described as extremely hard.
The Welshman took the opening frame, albeit after a lengthy spell when O’Sullivan went in search of snookers. It used to be that the current world champion never played on when requiring snookers, but he has done so quite often recently to suggest a real appetite for the job.
O’Sullivan levelled the match with a 103 break in the second, but he passed up a chance to take the lead when playing a poor positional shot from brown to red and Stevens stepped in the edge back in front.
There was a moment of hilarity in frame 4, as it appeared one of the players or the referee broke wind. After the trio composed themselves, O’Sullivan missed a red.
The fourth frame became increasingly scrappy and O’Sullivan muttered about the table playing extremely hard.
Both players had massive chances to claim the fourth frame. It appeared to swing Stevens’ way when O’Sullivan went in off when escaping from a snooker, but his clearance broke down on the black.
Stevens had a further chance, but missed the pot and O’Sullivan stepped in to level for a second time.
A chance for Stevens went begging in the fifth as he missed a red into the middle and O’Sullivan made a 74 clearance to move within one frame of victory.
During the break in play, O'Sullivan spoke to the referee about the conditions - seeming to suggest the cold was affecting the table - but he was able to shrug off the concerns and a break of 74 sealed the win.
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