World No. 1 Mark Selby was unexpectedly made to sweat in the unseasonable Beijing spring heat in the revamped China Open Snooker Tournament on Monday, with players eyeing a final chance to book their ticket to this year's World Championships.
In what was supposed to be a routine qualifier, "The Jester" was left wiping his brow after being pushed by world No. 91 Wang Yuchen before eventually winning 6-4. Even with the pressure of the TV lights, the 20-year-old Wang looked assured and quickly took the opening frame.
The second got even better for the young man. Wang calmly dispatching the balls to 96 - only to rattle the black for his century break. Selby hit back with breaks of 83 and 87, and a scrappy third to go 3-2 up.
Wang came back again, an aggressive split of the reds allowed him to hit a break of 71 for 3-3. Selby ground out for 4-3. Wang clawed back for 4-4, finishing the frame with some showboating on the colors. Selby eventually had too much, taking the last two frames and his place in the first round.
For tournament favorite Ronnie O'Sullivan, it was quite a different story. Visibly jet-lagged, "The Rocket" didn't need to be at his best to see off Ross Muir 6-2. Instead, he said the tournament was a chance to relax and meet Chinese fans, joking that he was on his best behavior. "I don't play snooker for money. But maybe for some of the other players it's a big opportunity to make some big money. But for me, fortunately, I'm alright in that area so I just come to play for fun," he said. "China is the best place in the world. So any opportunity to come to China, I take every opportunity. So, for me it's just like a holiday, and just good to be here," O'Sullivan added.
Top Chinese seed, Ding Junhui beat Michael Georgiou 6-2. Consistent breaks of 66, 67, 66, 67 were enough to keep him out of touch, before a clearance of 91 finished the job. "Of course the audience want to see me win, I can feel their strong desire and this won't be pressure for me," Ding remarked.
Meanwhile, veteran Mark Williams continued his recent resurgence by seeing off Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 6-1 in the first round. Despite taking the first frame, the Thai world No. 60 hardly touched the table in the following four. Williams quickly racking up breaks of 131, 50, 129, and 64 - with Un-Nooh scoring just two points in reply.
CHINESE POTTER THROUGH
In a minor upset, world No. 43 Cao Yupeng knocked out 10th seeded Luca Brecel in the afternoon session. The two players went toe-to-toe, trading frames up to 4-3 to Brecel in an edgy encounter. Amidst the scrappy play, Cao overwhelmingly won the third frame 148-0. Fouls and a break of 135 helped Cao to the rarely seen total. But a frame down, the seventh highest ranked Chinese player found a second gear, winning three on-the-trot to overturn the Belgian favorite. Joining him is fellow countryman Lyu Haotian, who cruised past Englishman Liam Highfield 6-2. While in the qualifiers, 18-year-old Luo Honghao rattled Stuart Carrington 6-2.