World number one Mark Selby survived a second-session fight back from Robert Milkins to win 10-6 and reach the second round of the Betfred World Championship.
It was Selby’s first competitive match for over a month as he pulled out of the previous two tournament for personal reasons. So the Leicester cueman was relieved to shake off any rustiness and set up a last 16 meeting with Sam Baird.
Selby is bidding for his second Crucible crown having beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2014 final. He is yet to reach the final of a ranking event so far this season, though he did win the Gdynia Open Eurosport Tour event in February.
Milkins trailed 7-2 overnight but rattled off the first three frames today in just 40 minutes with breaks of 50, 61 and 62. Selby had a chance to clear in the next from 44-0 down but missed the last red on 60, and Milkins took advantage to close to 7-6.
The interval seemed to interrupt Milkins’ momentum and Selby was able to stop the rot by winning a scrappy 14th frame. He then won the next with a run of 67 for 9-6, and finished in style in the 16th frame by coming from 64-0 down to make a 70 clearance. Selby’s clenched his fist after the final black wobbled briefly in the jaws of a top corner then dropped.
“You’ve got to give credit to Rob, he came out under pressure and played some great snooker,” said Selby. “When he got back to 7-6 I was getting a bit twitchy, he was scoring, he was fluent, and the interval probably came at the wrong time for him.
“I’ve missed a couple of tournaments so I felt a lot fresher, but at the same time I was not as match sharp. But I didn’t want to come into this tournament fatigued.
“The last few years I’ve been to the China Open and done well, but with the tournaments being so close together I’ve come here jet-lagged and I’ve not gone on a good run.”
Milkins said: “I got dragged into the wrong game right from the start. I’m not going to beat Mark playing a tactical game, and after the first session I realised I had to try and do something different.
“It worked for sure, but it just didn’t quite happen when I came out after the interval. It’s a shame because I really fancied winning that game then.
“Mark is a brilliant match player, he’s just very tough to play against. He does miss the odd ball, but he grinds in there and gets a result.
“This season has been terrible, it’s been bad from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve done well in any tournament this year. The break definitely won’t do any harm, I’m just sick of it. Not sick of the game, but sick of the way I’m playing, I just don’t seem to be able to do anything like I used to.”
Meanwhile, Neil Robertson is in danger of a shock first round exit as he trails Michael Holt 6-3.
In a high quality session, Holt took a 3-0 lead with breaks of 75 and a tournament-high 140. Australia’s Robertson, the 2010 Champion, fought back to 3-3 with 62, 101 and 107. But it was Holt, whose only previous win at the Crucible came in 2005, who finished the session strongly. Runs of 115 and 50 put the Nottingham potter 5-3 ahead. Robertson had a chance in the last frame but missed the pink to a centre pocket off the last red when leading by 22 points and Holt made an excellent yellow to black clearance. They resume tonight at 7pm.