The Rocket Ronnie O’Sullivan made a raucous return to snooker’s biggest stage in his first showing at this year’s Betfred World Championship yesterday.
The enigmatic five-time world champion is a shoe-in for a sixth title as he bids to go level with legends Steve Davis and Ray Reardon on the all-time list.
But the Rocket was struggling with his landing gear, removing his footwear and playing an entire frame in just his socks, the kind of bizarre antic that keeps the Crucible crowds clamouring to come back and see him year after year.
Never shy of making a headline or two, he unlaced and took off his sparkling new shoes, complaining of a sore toe. He then strolled around in just his socks, and is likely to be fined for his antics – a costly way to go about making yourself feel at home.
Maybe he was following in the footsteps of seven-time champion Stephen Hendry, who once said that the Crucible had “become like playing in my front room, and I keep looking for my pipe and slippers under the table when I walk in.”
After quizzing members of the crowd about their shoe sizes, the saga was resolved by tournament director Mike Ganley, who lent the Rocket his scruffy size eights for the remainder of the session.
And, despite the amusing distraction, O’Sullivan still managed to show his class with breaks of 104, 61, 59, 54 and 75 to take a giant step towards the last 16.
Sheffield-based Ding Junhui had his own moment of madness in his victory over Mark Davis. Chinese cueman Ding slotted in 13 reds with 12 blacks in frame nine, before playing for the blue when on course for a maximum 147 break.
The world No 3 admitted afterwards that he had not realised the great position he was in.
“I didn’t know until the last red I potted and I heard the noise from the crowd and looked at the scoreboard,” said Ding, who would have pocketed £30,000 if he had made the total clearance.
On a day of drama it was also great to see Ali Carter come through his first round match against Alan McManus in comfortable fashion.
‘The Captain’ was given a hero’s welcome as he returned to the home of snooker following a difficult year recovering from cancer: “It’s brilliant to be back. I didn’t want to come here, lose and feel like an idiot,” reflected Carter.
Ulsterman Mark Allen cruised past the first stage with a 10-3 demolition job on qualifier Ryan Day.
The Pistol fired in nine straight frames from 3-1 down to set up a mouthwatering second round clash with former Crucible finalist Barry Hawkins.