O’Sullivan bewildered by fake applause during blistering start
Ronnie O’Sullivan required just an hour and 22 minutes to establish an 8-1 overnight lead against Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh as their first-round match turned into an exhibition of speed snooker.
In the meeting of the two fastest players on the circuit O’Sullivan began his World Championship campaign with seven breaks over 50, including two centuries, and recorded an average shot time for the session of just 13.41 seconds.
It was the kind of display that would ordinarily have brought a packed crowd to its feet. Instead bursts of canned crowd noise were played to mark centuries and frame wins, initially appearing to bewilder the five-time world champion. But otherwise O’Sullivan showed nothing but steely resolve against an opponent who was guilty of gifting him gilt-edged chances.
Breaks of 101 and 85 in the first two frames set the tone for a tie that had looked set to test O’Sullivan, given Thepchaiya’s near-miss against eventual champion Judd Trump in the first round last year. Thepchaiya’s carelessness continued in the next as O’Sullivan stepped in to clear to pink for a break of 115, a foul yielding six of the seven points the Thai had managed to accumulate.
O’Sullivan continued with breaks of 86 and 76 to extend his lead to 6-0, before the Thai avoided the indignity of a third Crucible whitewash by taking the next with a fine break of 69.
Former champions Neil Robertson and John Higgins, meanwhile, expressed their support for the fake-crowd experiment after reaching the second round with 10-5 wins over Liang Wenbo and Matthew Stevens respectively.
Robertson said: “It’s a really good addition. As long as they don’t add somebody opening a packet of crisps and the random mobile phones going off then it’s actually really nice.”
Four-time winner Higgins, who converted a 6-3 overnight lead, said it was an improvement on the previous silence which he described as
“like going to Mass.” Higgins added: “It was a lot better having some atmosphere in there. I still feel the pressure out there – it’s still the Crucible you’re playing in. It’s still a venue with seats and you do feel the nerves just from being here.”
Kurt Maflin, the English-Norwegian qualifier, was warned for making an obscene gesture towards the table during his match against David Gilbert, the world No 12. Maflin made the gesture after his bid for a maximum break ended when he ran out of position on the penultimate red.
Referee Tatiana Woollaston took Maflin aside before the start of the next frame and told him: “I have to warn you – the next one, you lose the frame.”
Fast worker: Ronnie O’Sullivan took just 82 minutes to establish an 8-1 advantage