Ding Junhui held off a strong challenge from compatriot Zhou Yuelong to win 10-5 and progress to the second round of the Betfred World Championship.
The 12-time ranking winner will be pleased with a solid start in his bid for World Championship glory. He became the first Asian player to reach the Crucible final last year, where he succumbed to a 18-14 loss against Mark Selby. Ding will be hoping he can go one better this year.
Zhou can take heart from a spirited challenge, having started the day 7-2 behind. The teenager won the 2015 World Cup as part of China’s B team alongside Yan Bingtao and both players head up a raft of young talent breaking through from Asia.
It was a fast start for Zhou, who took the opening two frames of the afternoon with runs of 60 and 93. Despite a strong showing from the 19-year-old, the story of the session saw Ding keep him at arm’s length. China’s top player compiled a run of 67 to extend his lead to 8-4.
Zhou got another frame on the board in the 15th to pull back within three, but the damage was done in the first session as Ding got over the line for a 10-5 win.
Ding said: “I hope I can have a good run here this season. This is the first game and last year I had to go through qualifying. The first game is always difficult, but when you win it gets you ready for the next round. You have to relax and play and I’m still learning and trying hard.
“I think Zhou will come back stronger next year, but for me it is about staying in the moment. Last year I got a lot of experience reaching the final and now I am more confident.”
Rory McLeod staged a fightback in the other match of the afternoon, as he wrested the lead from an in-form Judd Trump to take a 5-4 advantage going into the final session.
The Ace in the Pack is one of the favourites for this year’s event, having arrived at the Crucible off the back of one of his best ever seasons. He’s claimed silverware at the European Masters and Players Championship.
Trump charged to a 4-0 lead and it looked to be business as usual for the seven-time ranking event winner. However the return from the interval marked a shift in momentum.
McLeod battled back with breaks of 72, 41, 43 and 77 to snatch a slender advantage going into tomorrow’s concluding session.