Ronnie O’Sullivan played his first competitive match in nearly two months and finished it with a trademark century as he beat David Gilbert 4-3 in the first round of the Coral World Grand Prix.
The Rocket goes through to the last 16 in Cheltenham and will face either Mark Allen or Liang Wenbo on Wednesday evening (tickets still available, click here for details).
O’Sullivan last took the stage at the Scottish Open in December, choosing not to enter several tournaments in January including the Masters. There was some rustiness in his game tonight but also moments of magic, and his ability to finish a match in style is undiminished.
Gilbert, in fact, may rue missing his opportunity not to knock out the five time World Champion as he had chances in each of the first four frames but found himself 3-1 down. He then found his scoring touch and breaks of 69 and 115 saw him draw level at 3-3.
Early in the decider Gilbert was faced with a risky long red and went at it full-blooded, but missed his target by several inches. O’Sullivan pounced and a superb 129 – his 1,036th career century – secured his second round berth.
“I struggled, I was way off the pace,” said 44-year-old O’Sullivan. “It was a strange game. He was much the better player and I was just hanging on. I had a couple of chances to win it at 3-2 but kept messing up positional play. I’ve had six weeks of playing on not-so-good tables so I have to get used to playing on decent tables again. My touch was all over the show.
“I was the underdog coming into the match as the lower seeded player. David’s had a much better season than me, the rankings never lie. It’s a scalp for me, I didn’t expect to win. I didn’t play as if I had nothing to lose, but I knew I was second favourite. A lot of people would have fancied David to beat me.
“I get a buzz when I play in front of anyone. I love playing, I enjoy hitting the ball, it’s the ultimate feeling. I’m loving the game, I’m here to enjoy the tournament and hopefully that continues.”
Having played in only five previous ranking events this season, O’Sullivan is 22nd on the one-year ranking list, trailing 16th-placed Kyren Wilson by £15,000. He has now guaranteed at least £7,500 this week and a deep run could clinch a place at the 16-man Coral Players Championship in Southport and give him the chance to defend that title.
Early Exit For Selby
Three-time World Champion Mark Selby suffered a first round defeat, losing 4-3 to Xiao Guodong in a high quality contest. There were centuries in the first three frames, 111 and 131 from Selby while his opponent made a 101. Xiao was on course for a 147 in the fourth until he missed the 12th black on 89.
China’s Xiao took the lead with a 78 and looked set to win 4-2 until he missed a red on 54 in the sixth; Selby punishing him with an 83 clearance. The key moment of the decider came when Selby, trailing 37-27, potted the third-last red to a top corner but the cue ball went twice across the table and dropped into a centre pocket. Xiao cleared with 34 to earn a match with Graeme Dott or Kurt Maflin.
“It’s an important win for me. Every match here is tough,” said Xiao, who reached the semi-finals here last year.
Tom Ford came from 3-1 down to edge out Stephen Maguire 4-3. Breaks of 68, 90 and 64 helped Maguire build a 3-1 lead but he failed to take a series of chances in the next three frames as Ford hit back to set up a second round match with Thepchaiya Un-Nooh or Matthew Selt.
Gary Wilson saw off Zhou Yuelong 4-1, gaining revenge for their recent European Masters semi-final which Zhou won 6-5. This time Wilson fired breaks of 53, 58 and 61.