More surprises as Ebdon and O'Sullivan fall

Favourites continue to tumble out of World Championship first round as unseeded Gray and Dale deliver upsets

Ronnie O'Sullivan and Peter Ebdon yesterday joined the growing number of leading players to tumble out in the early stages of the World Championship in Sheffield.

In the first seven matches to be completed at the Crucible Theatre only two seeds have made it through to the second round and all four winners in the top half of the draw have been qualifiers.

Stephen Hendry's stunning defeat against Stuart Bingham on Saturday was followed by losses on Sunday for Paul Hunter and Mark King.

Now O'Sullivan, the world No 4, and Ebdon, the 1996 runner-up, also find themselves on the sidelines just three days into the tournament.

O'Sullivan's agonising 10-9 exit at the hands of David Gray was much the greater surprise, especially in view of the way O'Sullivan played for most of the contest. He led 5-1 after three successive century breaks followed by a 96, but Gray, ranked 60th in the world, performed superbly to win the next three frames.

On yesterday's resumption the high standard continued and O'Sullivan added two more centuries to his tally, moving into a 9-7 lead, but the 21-year-old refused to buckle and he got the better of two scrappy frames to take the match into a decider.

O'Sullivan was becoming increasingly anxious and his form ragged, and Gray's 39 break meant he needed snookers. He fought valiantly to get them but gave up the ghost when leaving Gray on to pot the blue when 26 points ahead.

"I could see it slipping away when I got the kick on the brown," Gray said. "I feared the worst, especially when I missed the snooker and hit the pink."

O'Sullivan paid tribute to his conqueror, saying: "It's David's day, and he deserves his victory.

"He kept me off the table for long periods. I just hope it's a good tournament for him and he picks up some good experience - good luck to him."

Gray, who won the Benson & Hedges Championship for lower-ranked players two years ago, admitted this was "the best day of my career so far".

He added: "When Ronnie is in the balls he's a genius, but I knew he couldn't keep up that standard forever. He started missing a few and ran out of position a few times.

"I just waited for my chances and I knew I could take them. Even at 5-1 down I knew I could get back into it and I just pinched it at the end. It's a massive result for me."

In the second round Gray will meet Dominic Dale, who beat Ebdon 10-6. Only six places in the current rankings separate the duo, but Ebdon was still expected to win.

"When I had clear-cut chances I played very well," Dale, the world No 19, said. "Peter's not easy to play against and he missed a couple of crucial balls but it's never easy out there. It's harder to play at the Crucible than any other venue."

The Gray-Dale match guarantees at least one unseeded quarter-finalist, and Dale will start favourite.

"Playing a lower-ranked opponent after a top seed has fallen can put more pressure on you," he said. "Gray showed plenty of tenacity against Ronnie, and it will be another very tough match.

"You can't show disrespect to any rival here, and I'll have to stay focused."

Ken Doherty, the 1997 champion who is in the bottom half of the draw, opened his campaign for a second title yesterday by taking a 6-3 over Darren Morgan, of Wales.

* Jimmy White's odds for the World Championship have been cut to 25-1 from 80-1 by William Hill after the defeats of Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan in his half of the draw. Hills says a White victory would cost them "hundreds of thousands of pounds".

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