Ronnie O’Sullivan fought back from three frames down to beat Ding Junhui 6-5 and book his place in the quarter finals of the Masters.
With Judd Trump absent due to a positive coronavirus test and Neil Robertson and Mark Selby beaten on Tuesday, O’Sullivan came into his first-round match as favourite for the event.
O’Sullivan looked up against it as he saw Ding take the opening three frames, but his own form was excellent and he took the final three frames to fashion an unlikely win and clinch a place in the quarter finals against either John Higgins or Mark Allen.
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Ding started nervously with a poor break-off shot, but he seized on a chance O’Sullivan left him when the world champion offered his opponent a shot at a red when making a safety escape. It was not an easy red into the middle, but Ding took it and a break of 83 secured the first frame.
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The second frame followed a similar pattern to the first, as O’Sullivan offered an opening to Ding when playing a safety. O’Sullivan’s shot left his opponent with a chance of a cross-double with safety in mind. He executed it to perfection and knocked in a break of 75 to move two frames ahead.
The third frame presented O’Sullivan with his first chance to score, but a poor positional shot on the black saw him miss a red into the middle and Ding stepped in with a break of 73 to increase his advantage.
O’Sullivan’s error in the third frame was a concern, but he shook it off to get on the board in the fourth. He took on a tough red into the yellow pocket and dropped perfectly on the blue. In the blink of an eye, he stroked in a break of 103 to cut the deficit to 3-1.
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O’Sullivan carried the momentum from the fourth into the second session as he fashioned a wonderful break of 60 to take the frame despite the pink and black being out of commission.
Ding had been kept cold for a couple of frames, but he stroked a tough starting red into the middle in the sixth and it set him up for a stunning break of 129 to restore a two-frame advantage.
The one-chance blend of snooker continued in the seventh as O'Sullivan reeled off his 75th Masters century to move within one frame of Ding at 4-3.
Ding moved to within one frame of victory when knocking in a 128 to move 5-3 ahead. He stepped to the table on the back of seeing his opponent make a century, but he was full of confidence - as demonstrated by a wonderful split of the pack off a blue into the middle.
In a match of high quality, there were a couple of mistakes from both players as nerves crept in. Ding had a golden chance to close out the match in the ninth, but he missed a makeable red with the table at his mercy and O'Sullivan stepped in to keep himself alive.
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There was tension in the arm of Ding in the 10th and a couple of mistakes allowed O’Sullivan to take the frame and force a decider.
O'Sullivan said before the match that he had been working hard in practice leading up to the event. That effort paid off in his display, and he knocked in a superb opening red from a poor break by Ding to get his chance. He ran out of position on 34 to give the table back to his opponent.
Ding too had a chance but could not convert it and a fabulous long red - O'Sullivan's long potting was at 78% - set the Rocket up to close out the match with a break of 73 and book his place in the quarter finals.