RONNIE O’Sullivan took full advantage of a below-par display from man of the season Ding Junhui in the first session of the BetVictor Welsh Open final to surge into a 7-1 lead.
The Rocket was close to his brilliant best on Saturday night against Barry Hawkins, the man he beat at the Crucible Theatre last May to claim a fifth world title.
And though the 38-year-old O’Sullivan again looked a formidable force at the Newport Centre on Sunday afternoon, Ding’s shortcomings contributed hugely to his own difficulties.
World No3 Ding, 26, has along with Neil Robertson swept almost all before him this season, winning four ranking titles before arriving in south Wales.
There was the carrot of making history and matching Stephen Hendry’s all-time record of five on offer, but that looked a distant dream after the first eight frames played.
A tense opener went to recent Masters champion O’Sullivan, and he doubled that advantage with a run of 91 with Ding looking ill at ease in the arena, the complete opposite of his demeanour throughout the campaign.
With China’s No1 squandering the chances that did come his way O’Sullivan made it 3-0 with a 70 before his opponent at least mounted some resistance by closing to 3-1 at the mid-session interval.
The fifth frame felt like a big one, in that Ding made his highest break of the session – a run of 55 – but still contrived to lose it after miscuing on the final green and fouling the pink, and see the chance of closing the gap to one disappear.
After O’Sullivan extended his lead to 4-1 in another scrappy frame a cross double got him in for a break of 92 to make it 5-1.
A miss on the final red from Ding allowed the reigning and five-time world champion make it 6-1 and O’Sullivan claimed another frame that could have gone Ding’s way to leave the scoreline at a daunting 7-1 going into the concluding evening session.
Photographs by Monique Limbos