Ronnie O’Sullivan went through the gears to secure a 6-3 lead over David Gilbert after the opening session of their first-round clash in the World Championship at the Crucible.
Gilbert came into the match having lost all seven of his tournament meetings with O’Sullivan, but brought up thoughts of a shock when racing into a three-frame lead.
However, O’Sullivan got going with a ton in the fourth and never looked back to take control of the match ahead of Sunday afternoon’s concluding session.
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O’Sullivan had a sighter at a long red to the bottom left in the first frame, but it failed to find its target and he was unfortunate to see it hit the jaws of the right middle and leave it on for Gilbert, who cashed in with a telling break to settle the nerves and take the opener.
Gilbert had to come through qualification, but he has form at the Crucible - having made it to the semi-finals in 2019 - and he doubled his lead with a break of 94 in the second. Fortune was on Gilbert’s side in the second, as he missed a red by some way and sent balls round the table but left nothing easy, and got in again shortly afterwards and took full advantage.
After potting one ball in the opening two frames, O’Sullivan got his cue arm moving in the third with a break of 44 - which was a good effort given black and pink were out of commission.
However, he did not kill the frame off and after winning a safety battle, O’Sullivan left a gift for Gilbert when missing a tough green and the Angry Farmer cleared the colours to open up a three-frame lead.
O’Sullivan was under pressure after losing a frame he should have won, but there was no sign of it as he stroked in a stunning long red and raced through the 185th century of his Crucible career to get on the board.
The fifth had a similar feel to the third, as OSullivan broke down on a break of 43 and Gilbert countered. It boiled down to a battle on the final red, and it went O’Sullivan’s way after he laid a fiendish snooker and Gilbert coughed up an error.
From 3-0 down, O’Sullivan levelled the contest after winning a safety exchange and crafting a break of 64 - which came after a bizarre disturbance in the crowd.
Gilbert claimed before the draw that he wanted to avoid one of the big guns, and said following the draw ‘anyone but Ronnnie.’
At three frames to the good that was probably the furthest thing from his mind, but after O’Sullivan knocked in a 104 to lead for the first time in the match at 4-3 those thoughts likely came flooding back.
Gilbert had a chance in the eighth, but missed a simple black off its spot - with his thoughts almost certainly on splitting the pack. It was a costly error as O’Sullivan picked off a run of 67 to extend his lead.
O’Sullivan thought the session was over after eight frames but had to be reminded by referee Brendan Moore that there are nine in the opening session.
So instead of shaking hands with Gilbert, he picked off the ninth with a break of 58 to secure a commanding 6-3 advantage.
Crucible debutant Jackson Page made a superb start to his match with Barry Hawkins, as he secured a 6-3 lead after the first session.
Hawkins was short of his best, with his highest break being 44. Page took full advantage and secured a 6-3 lead heading into Sunday evening’s concluding session, albeit Hawkins gave himself hope by pinching the final frame after needing a snooker.
His clearance of blue, pink and black was out of the top drawer.
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