Crucible Diary 2013: Day One

So it begins, the 2013 World Championship in underway, Ronnie O’Sullivan having entered the arena this morning to a rapturous round of applause for the start of his match with Marcus Campbell.

Click below for the first part of my daily World Championship diary from the Crucible, which during the course of the 17 days will contain the latest post-match quotes, as well other other snippets of insight from what promises to be another thrilling tournament…

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13:02: The first shock of this year’s World Championship came before a ball had even been potted, as I arrived in Sheffield shortly before 9:30am, without having got lost or having experienced any other traffic related disasters in the morning, as is the norm.

Having made my way over to the Crucible for the first time since last year’s final, I headed up into the media room and with the clock ticking, into the arena itself ahead of the opening session of play this year, though not before being given a can of ‘Ronnie O’Sullivan rocket fuel’ by press officer Ivan Hirschowitz. No doubt that will be needed for a long session or two at some point this week.

With all of the seats taken over on table one where Ronnie O’Sullivan would begin his quest for a fifth world title against Marcus Campbell, I grabbed myself a space on table two for the second match of the morning between Ricky Walden and Michael Holt. Taking in the atmosphere in the arena, as well as the freshly re-painted set, to reflect this season’s new sponsor Betfair, it did not feel like it had been a year since I had last been in here.

With Rob Walker building up the crowd as only he can, notably rehearsing a ‘5-4-3-2-1’ countdown for Ronnie’s introduction, referees Jan Verhaas and Michaela Tabb were introduced and immediately spotted a problem with the scoreboards, from what I gather the scores for table one being displayed on the monitors for table two.

All of that was soon forgotten however, the players being given a terrific reception, in particular O’Sullivan who looked almost slightly embarrassed at the ovation that he received.

For me though it was Walden v Holt, and as I have seen happen to so many players here down the years on the morning, Michael was to catch the blue from his break-off shot, as Ricky would then repeat in the second frame.

While there were a few safety exchanges early on, attention could not help but wander to the other side of the curtain as O’Sullivan was immediately in and taking reds and blacks in the opening frame of that match. Surely he could not hit a maximum break on the first frame of the opening morning? He couldn’t, seemingly taking a blue as the break hit 38, but he wasted little time in wrapping up the frame with a break of 82 in less than ten minutes.

Back on table two, Ricky Walden was to survive an early in-off before taking the frame with a nicely taken 76, before he then opened with 55 in the next, Holt having missed a pink with the rest following Ricky’s errant break-off.

Michael was though to have a chance, Walden going in-off before Holt managed to earn the chance of a clearance with a good snooker behind the yellow. It was not to be however as he came the wrong side on the final blue, missing it and leaving it close to the yellow pocket for a grateful Ricky.

With Holt understandably frustrated, Ricky forged further ahead with a sublime total clearance of 140, during which he never looked like missing in the next frame, before surviving a couple of flukes from Michael in frame four to take a 4-0 lead into the mid-session interval.

Having struggled to assert himself in previous matches against the likes of Mark Selby and Rory McLeod here at the Crucible, Ricky was as impressive as I have seen him live and it is good that those who primarily watch snooker on the BBC can see just how good a player he is. At the time of writing he has extended his lead to 6-1 and looks well-placed already to book his place in the last 16.

One thing I am often asked when I tell people that I like to attend live snooker tournaments is why, because you can see everything on television anyway. While the coverage provided by the BBC and Eurosport is excellent however, it is the little things that you do not see at home which help to make the experience what it is, particularly from the vantage points of the media seating.

What you immediately notice how small the Crucible Theatre actually is, indeed it is the first thing that anyone attending the tournament for the first time is likely to come out with. Particularly in the two-table set up of course, there is very little room for the cameramen in which to do their work and there was one particular moment this morning where Ricky had to watch his step, before the camerman shuffled back close to where referee Michaela Tabb was standing.

Indeed the role of the referee is something that I have gained a new insight into having seen the matches from the other side of the fence. There is so much that they do which goes un-noticed, controlling the crowd with a raise of the hand, ensuring that the arena scoreboard is correct, keeping their gloves wet with a damp cloth kept on the media bench and of course actually officiating the match!

Meanwhile, over on table one, Ronnie O’Sullivan was moving himself into a 3-1 lead at the mid-session interval, now 5-2, though the scoreline could have been so much closer but for two or three frames stolen by O’Sullivan from behind. Extending his lead to 7-2 by the close of play, it will take some comeback from Campbell if he is to turn the match around.

19:14: Following a catch-up with WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson, I headed out to Tudor Square to sample the atmosphere and immediately noted how it was already sunnier on day one than anything that we saw during the whole of the 2012 event. For me, last year’s tournament was marred somewhat by the weather and so hopefully the rain will stay away this time around.

The break was to be short however as I wanted to make sure that I had a seat for the opening session of the match between Barry Hawkins and Jack Lisowski, in particular to see how Jack got on in his first ever appearance at the Crucible.

The early signs were promising, the 21-year-old producing an excellent break of 82 to steal the opening frame from 53 points down, before Hawkins bounced back to take the next three frames and a 3-1 lead into the mid-session interval.

Jack hit back with his first Crucible century in frame five, but it was Hawkins who was consistently coming out on top in the safety exchanges and he again took three on the spin to move clear with breaks of 100, 97 and 66. this his credit, Jack dug in to take the last following a tense battle on the final brown, but will need to tighten up if he is to complete the comeback tomorrow.

Meanwhile, over on table one, Shaun Murphy recovered from 2-0 down to emerge with a 5-4 overnight lead against dangerman Martin Gould. Though I could not see the action, the key frame appeared to be the third, Murphy coming back to take it having at one stage needed snookers on the yellow. That one could go all the way tomorrow…

At the time of writing, Ronnie O’Sullivan is back in action and has taken the opening two frames of the session in no time, breaks of 102 and 90 seeing him move just one away from a place in the last 16 at barely 7:30pm. Quotes from him will of course follow the conclusion of his match.

Over on table two meanwhile, Michael White has made a promising start against two-time world champion and fellow Welshman Mark Williams, taking the opening frame with a break of 87. In fact, the only man to have made a century break in his opening frame at the Crucible is Ireland’s Fergal O’Brien, who will continue to hold that unique distinction for now at least.

21:28: Though he would need a little longer than had appeared at 9-2, Ronnie O’Sullivan has confirmed his place in the last 16 with a 10-4 victory against Marcus Campbell. From what I saw of the match, Ronnie looked to be in fine form in and around the balls, with his only relative ‘weakness’ being if anything his long game.

Shortly after the match, both players came into the media room for their press conference, first up was Marcus:

“I was a wee bit unlucky, Ronnie scores very heavy in and around the balls. I didn’t make too many mistakes early on in the day, I felt as though 7-2 was a little unjustified really. I was happy with the way I played and the way I conducted myself, that’s the best I have felt here and I really, really enjoyed it.”

“The match was very open and pretty free-flowing, not too many scrappy frames. Ronnie gets the balls open and scores quite heavily, pretty quickly. But it was good to be involved in it.”

“Getting here, I’ve had a good season and I’m really happy with the way I played there. I came into the match with a bit of confidence where in past years, you have had to wait maybe six, eight weeks before you play. I’ve only waited four or five days and I am right into it, so I have had a decent season. I’m not getting any younger! So I’m happy.”

“The atmosphere was brilliant. You just wish sometimes that they would appreciate what you are doing. I played a green in the second frame clearing up, bent it round the blue with check side off the bottom black cushion and come up and landed absolutely perfect on the brown and I got a ripple (laughs), whereas if he would have played it, it would haver brought the house down. So you just wish they would appreciate other players as well, but hey, that’s the way it goes.”

On what he would take away from the tournament:

“The way I handled myself and the way I felt. I would have been very disappointed if I had have gone out there today and I had been nervous or not in control of myself, but I was, so that was the biggest point.”

“Every defeat hurts, but how I came out of that 7-2 down was beyond me. That’s due to his brilliance once he gets in and about the balls. Maybe his long game wasn’t as sharp as it could have been but certainly in about the balls, he’s if not the best, at getting them open and doing it as quickly as he does, he’s definitely up there if it’s not him.”

“That was a big test for me today because of the circumstances of him coming back, it was a little bit of a circus to be honest, but certainly it was a great atmosphere and to play in that and conduct myself the way I did, I’m very happy.”

And soon to follow was Ronnie

“It was nice, the journey has been exciting since I announced that I was playing. It gave me something to do really so I have enjoyed the last five weeks, getting prepared for it. It’s more like the journey that has been enjoyable, this is more like the icing on the cake playing in an event like this. Just trying to go with it and see where I go.”

“Anyone feels nervous before any match really, I was not sure how the match was going to go, how I was going to compete, it has been a bit of an experiment in some ways. But I felt ok.”

“I don’t think [the reception] was that different to what I normally get, I’ve always had a good relationship with the fans. It was nice to come back, I feel their support, they’ve supported me over the years. It’s always nice to play in front of die hard snooker fans.”

On his time out:

“I’ve got a book coming out in October so a lot of my journey over the past four or five years and the reasons why, you’ll read it and you’ll see it and you can draw your own conclusions.”

“It was never my intention to take a break. I wanted to carry on playing. I was advised not to, but if I had sat down with Barry immediately, I would have probably started playing at the first tournament of the season. I have a lot of regrets because I’ve kinda put myself in a not great position. At this stage in my career I’ve probably not got many years left. In hindsight things would have been a lot different, but it isn’t, I’m here where I am and you have just got to make a start.”

“If I’d have sat down with Barry man to man, I was advised that it wasn’t sensible for me to sign the contract and obviously I trusted what I was being told. When it got to D-Day I thought maybe I should have a bit of a face to face with Barry, which I did and there wasn’t any problem with the contract. So I maybe got involved in a political war without knowing the full facts.”

“It suited me in some ways. When I said that I was having six months off last year, it wasn’t because I was tired or jaded, but because for the last four months before the World Championship, I was being advised that I shouldn’t sign the contract, shouldn’t do this, so having that six months off was just a thing to Barry to say let’s sort it out and find a compromise. But there really was no compromise to be done. I should have just sat down and read the contract myself and I would have probably signed the contract right away.”

“I’ve got no sour grapes, I’m happy, I’ve had a great career. I’ve won four world titles and that feeling with my son last year was the best feeling I have ever, ever, had and who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have played the way I did if I didn’t have it in my head that I wasn’t going to carry on playing, maybe that was the motivation. You have to find a positive with everything and that memory will stay with me forever and my little boy will see that as he grows older and that memory will always be in my heart.”

“Where I go from here I don’t know. Obviously I had to graft last year and now I’ve had a year out and now to graft again. I don’t think I’ve got too many grafts in me to be honest with you, so just going to play each tournament as it comes and see how it goes.”

On his performance today:

“In and out, in the balls ok, safety not great, long potting not great, in general probably not as slick and as sharp, as tight really. But that’s all you can expect if you haven’t played for a year.”

“You lose that tightness, you just do, it’s only matches and competing and getting in there and toughing a few games out, which brings that instinctively and you can only get that through matches. It’s just a bit of fun for me to be fair.”

On whether not playing until next Saturday will suit him:

“Don’t really care to be honest with you. I’d play tomorrow if they wanted to put me on tomorrow, play next week, two weeks, three weeks. Where I’m at, there is drive to want to do well and in your own pride and performance, but it’s your first match, your first tournament and it’s the end of the season so I’m just taking each match as it comes.”

“If you were to ask me after that first match do I fancy going on and doing really well? Probably not, but stranger things have happened, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

“In a way it’s like trying to get fit for the marathon, the day before the marathon starts. You are just not going to do it, so me trying to get match fit during a tournament, it’s something that probably takes three tournaments, a couple of beatings. you need that to toughen you up mentally sometimes.”

“I’ve never been in this position before so it’s as new to me as it is to you, so we’ll just have to see where we go with it.”

Elsewhere, Michael White has finished up with a 5-4 lead against Mark Williams, the latter having clawed his way back from 4-1 down to leave the second session finely poised heading into tomorrow afternoon’s final session.

With Ivan turning off the screens and all action completed for the day, it is time to head to the Graduate for the first time, before getting ready to come back and do it all again in less than 12 hours time.

Hopefully I will also have the chance to have a wander around and sample the atmosphere tomorrow, something that has eluded me today!