Two winners so far today on day five here at the Crucible and we now know that Ronnie O’Sullivan will take on Matthew Stevens in the second round at the weekend, following their victories over Craig Steadman and Mark Williams respectively.
For O’Sullivan it was a business-like win, to me reminiscent of his win here at the same stage two years ago against Marcus Campbell, who also had chances to make the scoreline closer in the first session, but was unable to take them.
Though he wasn’t at his blistering best by any means, I sensed out in the arena that a couple of frames in, Ronnie realised that he probably wouldn’t have to be and so that was reflected in the rest of his performance.
During his press conference Craig was disappointed to have lost and I could understand why, as aside from perhaps the first two frames yesterday, he had chances to win each of the next seven and so felt somewhat hard done by to trail 7-2 overnight.
What I like about Craig though, and I know this from having spoken to him away from the media room is that he never complains about his lot and despite being given the chance to have a moan today by a question about the financial difficulties facing players in the lower reaches of the rankings, refused to bite.
As for Ronnie, what I have found interesting this year in the build-up to the tournament is that despite being the sport’s ‘box office’ player and tournament favourite with the bookmakers, not to mention champion here in 2012, 2013 and beaten finalist last year, he has almost come in a little under the radar for him.
Perhaps it is because he has entered the tournament in the second week, having opened the tournament on day one in the last couple of years, but with people talking up the prospects of rivals such as Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Judd Trump, at least some of the attention at least is off Ronnie this time around.
Notwithstanding that, he did his best to reclaim some of the spotlight during his match with ‘shoegate’ yesterday and his unusual plea for a pair of size 8’s from somebody in the crowd, before settling for tournament director Mike Ganley’s pair which he described as being like ‘heaven’ this afternoon.
Shoe talk aside, I thought that Ronnie seemed to be in good spirits and in a better place mentally than in recent months, for example at the Welsh Open in February when he did not look ‘right’ either at the table or in post-match interviews.
While he was again talking about his career after snooker and the work that he is currently doing for Eurosport, when reminded of the fact that he had lost his last match to Matthew Stevens, I felt that the mask slipped somewhat and the competitive animal that he is came out with his answer (basically reciting his major titles won – enough said), which can only be a good thing.
Next up for him will be Welshman Stevens, after he won the three frames that he needed this afternoon to finish off old rival Mark Williams, by a surprisingly large margin of 10-2.
After what was a bizarre opening session yesterday evening, where it was hard to predict what would happen next with in-offs, snookers and the crowd getting carried away, it was Stevens who came out with a lead and after making an opening frame century today never really looked back.
Williams was in good spirits when he came in and while no doubt disappointed to have fallen at the first hurdle, did not look to make any excuses and perhaps most interestingly spoke of the fact that next season he will not play in quite so many tournaments as he has this year, as he looked to secure his Crucible place.
In reality, I don’t think that he will have to, given the money that he has won in 2015 will now remain on his ranking for a further two years and so even with an average season in 2015/16, he should remain inside the top 16 this time next season.
At one stage he joked that given how he feels right now, he does not care whether he makes it back in a year’s time and no doubt that will be spun by a couple of headline writers into a serious statement, but I am sure that he will be back and challenging again come the new season.
As for Stevens, he was pleased to come through a difficult match with a player who he described as having known for 28 years and openly admitted that he goes into his match with O’Sullivan as a huge underdog and that his recent win against him at the Welsh Open counted for little given the night and day difference in formats.
He remained positive though, declaring himself happier in his personal life at the moment and suggesting that this is helping him on the baize as well.
No doubt that it will be a tough match, but he is a player who has always produced his best over the longer formats and will be hoping to make a strong start when they get underway on Saturday evening…