Monday, 18 April 2011

Legends lead the way

It was left to two of the true Crucible greats to lead the way on an exciting day three at the World Championship.

Three-time champion Ronnie O'Sullivan was the most-anticipated player to walk out in front of Sheffield the crowd today and he didn't disappoint, turning on the style to open up a commanding 7-2 advantage over Dominic Dale.

The Rocket has endured a barren season and even threatened to quit this year's tournament just a fortnight ago. This has seen his odds to lift the title drop to an unusual 8/1 shot.

No matter how he's playing though, you always feel he's got a chance if he gets his game together. And today, he certainly couldn't be accused of disinterest.

From ball one, he was firing on all cylinders and looked in the zone. It was the kind of focus we haven't seen from Ronnie all season. An action-packed session saw him muster some incredible breaks, including two shots at a maximum 147 and his 100th Crucible century.

And ironically it was the Rocket's quality long potting which gave him the edge. I say ironically because it's this area of his game that has fallen so dramatically adrift over the last couple of seasons.

It was a breath of fresh air to see Ronnie entertaining again. He was playing like a showman and dare I say it, like a potential world champion. It's only early days of course. He hasn't even won this match yet, but the signs were encouraging as he dazzled the crowd.

Whether he has the patience to keep it going for the whole tournament is an entirely different challenge of course. But what a great start. If we're prepared to kick him when he plays badly, we should praise him equally when he impresses.

The other legend who wowed the Crucible crowd today was the greatest of them all, Stephen Hendry.

The seven-time champion is scrapping for his life to retain his top 16 spot for the start of next season. He came through the 10-9 winner against Joe Perry in an enthralling game on the other side of the partition.

Resuming with what looked a healthy 6-3 lead - even with Hendry's  vast experience - he couldn't hide his nerves as Perry fought back to set up a classic.

In the end though, Hendry came through in the decider. But it's not a surprise to see Hendry deliver when under pressure. That's exactly what he did back in his glory days time and time again

The win moves the Scot back up to 15th in the provisional world rankings, but with Stephen Lee, Ricky Walden and Mark Allen just behind him, it's likely he'll still need another win to guarantee his status.

Elsewhere, Ding Junhui made a brief appearance under the Crucible lights. The Chinese star resumed 8-1 up against Jamie Burnett and wrapped up a 10-2 win. Bigger tests will lie ahead for him if he wants to win the trophy, but it's still a terrific start that means he'll have plenty left in the tank for his second round match.

While Ding may have been on and off in a flash, there was plenty more table time for Stephen Maguire and Barry Hawkins.

It was a bit of slag to say the least but Hawkins eventually sealed his first win at the Crucible in six attempts in the deciding frame.

After racing into a 4-0 lead, he continued to take advantage of an off-colour Maguire to end the first session 6-3 up. At 8-4 he looked home and dry, but lost the next four before eventually stumbling to the winning post in dramatic fashion.

It looked as if he was handing victory to Maguire and was scared to see the job out. But a classy break of 92 in frame 19 saw him home.

Today also saw an impressive milestone hit. Peter Ebdon's game with Stuart Bingham marked the 1,000th match at the Crucible.

In a tournament enriched with history, this first session was hardly a classic but Bingham did well to recover from 4-2 down to take a 5-4 lead overnight.

Stuart started horribly and even tweeted at the mid-session about how tired he was. But he managed to find something from nothing and it could prove the difference as Ebdon failed to punish him.

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