Defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan braved a debilitating virus to sink Chinese qualifier Pang Junxu 10-7 and progress to the second round of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
The 47-year-old revealed he will be heading straight home to bed before the start of his scheduled round of 16 match on Friday after withstanding a strong counterattack from his brave opponent despite feeling decidedly under the weather.
“I was feeling shaky and heavy and desperate,” revealed O’Sullivan, who raked up just five half-centuries in a decidedly second-gear display. “When you feel good you enjoy every ball, but I felt like I was slipping.
“No one always hits us, but you have to fight in these situations. Tiger Woods had to win tours on one leg. He takes all the energy out of you, but fight: it’s a world championship, isn’t it?
“I’m relieved it’s over. My legs and limbs are gone. I was so desperate that I crossed the line in every frame. I’m so tired and can’t wait to go back to bed.
Having previously stressed the need to conserve energy during the early stages if he is to move away from Stephen Hendry and become the first eight-time champion of the modern era, O’Sullivan was forced to battle hard in the evening session to sink his stubborn opponent.
Initially it appeared that Pang would deliver the missteps after inexplicably managing to enter the arena via the wrong straight, then losing the first five frames as O’Sullivan looked set to dish out the shallow victory he craved.
But instead it was O’Sullivan who lacked direction as Pang rallied from losing the first five frames to elbow back into the contest, breaking his duck with a break of 133 before winning the last two frames of the morning session to reduce his deficit to 6-3.
A break of 82 in the opening frame of the second session seemed to suggest O’Sullivan was back on track but he was clearly giving way and a superb parried 35 from Pang – including an outrageous red double – ensured he would take the champion over the top. last mid-session interval.
The spirited Chinese player went further, making back-to-back breaks of 78, 70 and 73 to pull himself back up to 9-7 and prolong O’Sullivan’s agony.
The defending champion finally took victory with a well-deserved break of 81 in the 17th frame, at which point having missed an excellent opportunity to complete an historic 200th Crucible century was clearly the least of his worries.
“I believe in the snooker gods,” added O’Sullivan. “I think they will do what they will do, and if I lost tonight the gods would have decided so.
“If I’m good enough, great, and if I’m not I have to go ahead and take my medicine. I never stoop or get frustrated, because I’m comfortable with my ability to play.”
Former world champions Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham grabbed 6-3 overnight leads against Wu Yize and David Gilbert, respectively.
The Aussie, who has flattered to cheat at the Crucible since his solitary title win in 2010, got off to a red-hot start as breaks of 138 and 96 gave him a 3-0 lead.
Wu countered with a break of 82 and after Robertson took next, the 19-year-old rose to the occasion with consecutive breaks of 107 to cut the deficit to a single frame. Interruptions of 64 and 80 restored Robertson’s three-frame lead to end a high-quality session.
Bingham turned a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 lead against an out-of-form Gilbert as Belgian Luca Brecel amassed five half-centuries to lead
Belgian Luca Brecel also holds a 6-3 overnight lead against Ricky Walden after racking up five half-centuries against the 2013 semi-finalist.
Qualifier Jak Jones marked his Crucible debut in style by carving out a 5-4 overnight lead against former finalist Ali Carter, despite the 11th seed making a break of 143 in the fifth frame of the match.