Ali Carter believes his big opportunity to topple Ronnie O'Sullivan at the Crucible may have arrived.
They will play in the second round at the Betfair World Championship, in a match that starts on Saturday, after Carter sealed a 10-4 victory over debutant Ben Woollaston on Tuesday.
Carter and O'Sullivan have gone head to head three times in Sheffield; in the second round eight years ago and then in the finals of 2008 and 2012. Each time O'Sullivan has come out on top, and Carter has never beaten the 37-year-old in a major tournament, suggesting he might be up against it when he tackles the defending champion.
Carter trailed 3-1 at one stage against Woollaston but recovered to lead 5-4, and this evening he made the World Championship newcomer suffer in his seat, starting with a break of 106 and rattling off the five frames he required.
The prospect of facing O'Sullivan is a challenge that Carter was initially coy about, offering one-word answers when quizzed about the four-time champion. He was persuaded to open up, though, and said: “I'm looking forward to playing Ronnie. I've had it twice in the final so being in the second round isn't going to match up to being in a final. It's just a second-round match.”
With O'Sullivan returning from almost a full year away from the tour for this event, Carter may never have had a better chance. “I think I'd rather be playing him in the second round than the final, definitely,” the 33-year-old Chelmsford player said.
“He could be a little bit off colour. I don't think he's going to be. Arguably, it's probably a good time to play him.”
Yet Carter knows that despite O'Sullivan lacking match practice, he is also carrying no baggage from defeats in the past 12 months. “ He's probably fresher than all of us put together. Rest assured he's been practising very hard for this tournament,” Carter said. “ You never really know what you're going to get. I won't go into it with any particularly approach.
”I consider myself a little bit unfortunate playing arguably the greatest player of all time in two World finals. He was unbelievably good last year. His safety was spot-on and he was scoring, making everything look ridiculously easy as we know he does. At the time I felt like I hadn't done myself justice, but that's quite a flippant comment because it's not quite as easy as that.“
The ousted Woollaston said: ”I should have been in front after the first session and tonight was embarrassing really. “It wasn't nerves. Tonight I just lost my confidence. I couldn't do anything right. Hopefully I'll do a better job next time.”
Earlier, Judd Trump staked his claim for the nattiest footwear in Sheffield when he wore studded Christian Louboutin slip-ons for his tussle with Dominic Dale, just as he did at the Masters in January, and some of his snooker was similarly eye-catching as the 2011 finalist opened a 6-3 lead.
Trump fired breaks of 88, 142 - the highest yet in the tournament - and 82, and should have been further ahead than he finished the session, wasting a clear chance at the end of the ninth frame.
Dale got in front in the frame but Trump came back and looked to have an easy final three colours for a 7-2 lead. But he missed a sitter of a blue and Dale mouthed 'Wow' before rising from his seat to cut his deficit by rolling in blue and pink.
World Championship underachiever Ding Junhui set himself on course for the last 16 as he rushed five frames clear of Alan McManus. Former Crucible semi-finalist McManus is making his first appearance at the tournament in Sheffield since 2006, having come through the qualifying rounds.
However the 42-year-old Glaswegian faded after making a decent start to the match, and Ding fired two centuries among a raft of big breaks to move 7-2 ahead in a match that concludes tomorrow morning. He made, in order, runs of 131, 67, 61, 129, 51 and 81 to glide three frames away from the last 16.
Ding's World Championship record is mystifying, considering he is a multiple winner of major ranking titles elsewhere. He has only gone beyond the second round once, in 2011, when he lost in the semi-finals to Trump and last year lost 10-9 to Ryan Day from 9-6 in front in round one. That meant there was hope for McManus, but his highest break in the opening nine frames was just 47, and that scoring form represented no threat to Ding.
Hong Kong's Marco Fu also began well, building a 6-3 lead against Welsh hope Matthew Stevens. Ding and Fu both abandoned the custom of walking out to music in a show of respect for the victims of the recent China earthquake that has left over 180 dead. Ding also played his match wearing a black armband.