Judd Trump eased his way into the World Championship by opening up a 7-2 lead over Liam Highfield in their first-round encounter at the Crucible.
The world number one knocked in a ton in the opening frame and even though he did not scale those heights for the remainder of the session, he produced enough quality to leave Highfield facing a mountain to climb.
Neil Robertson’s performance in the opening round was arguably enough to keep him as favourite for the tournament, but Trump had a determined look about him throughout the afternoon session on Tuesday.
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After the positive Covid-19 test that forced him to miss the Masters, Trump returned in sizzling form to win the German Masters and Gibraltar Open.
He was a little off colour at the Tour Championship, losing to Barry Hawkins in the quarter finals, but came out firing on all cylinders against Highfield.
A brilliant opening red set up a break of 116 in the first frame, which went Trump’s way inside 12 minutes.
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After some exhibition shots towards the end of the first frame, Trump looked in a mood to entertain but was stopped in his tracks when he missed a routine black off its spot in the second.
Highfield stepped in and knocked in a break of 52, but failed to get on the final red. He had an excellent chance to lay a fiendish snooker, but inexplicably played a poor positional shot and handed the initiative to Trump who cleared to the pink to take the second frame.
The third frame was a scrappy affair, with balls welded to the bottom cushion, but Trump has developed his safety play to be amongst the best in the game and he waited for his chance and took it to ease into a three-frame advantage.
Against the best player in the world this season, Highfield could ill afford mistakes. He also required a bit of luck and it came his way in the fourth courtesy of an outrageous fluked yellow. He missed the pot into the middle by a distance, but it ended up dropping into the bottom left corner.
Highfield glanced Trump’s way with a grin on his face, but was met with a steely glare from the world number one who arrived in Sheffield with his business head on.
Trump went into the interval with a face like thunder, clearly still smarting from Highfield’s fluke; he came out after the break and stroked in a superb 75 which included a couple right-handed shots.
Highfield had a chance in the sixth frame but gradually ran out of position and missed a red when on 53. It was a sizeable advantage, but in the modern game points are often irrelevant until you are over the line. Trump proved that point with a fabulous counter-attacking break of 65 to move four frames to the good.
Trump was left to sit in his chair as Highfield took the seventh with a single visit.
It was Trump’s turn to benefit from a fluke in the eighth, as he butchered a red to the bottom right, but it careered round the table and dropped into the right middle.
The world number one is well-versed in taking advantage of openings that come his way and he crafted an excellent break of 86. It was arguably a better contribution than the century in the opener, as the black was tied up throughout and he had to solve a series of problems.
Highfield had a chance to get a foothold in the game in the final frame of the session, but broke down on 21 and he went back to his chair shaking his head. The error proved to be a painful one for the underdog as Trump stepped in to take the ninth and open up a 7-2 lead - with three more frames required to secure a meeting with David Gilbert in round two.
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