RONNIE O’SULLIVAN claimed a 5-3 lead over Mark Selby in the first session of their Dafabet World Championship final at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield on Sunday.
O’Sullivan, aiming to win his sixth world title and third in as many years, went 3-0 up early on but Selby pegged him back to leave the final finely poised in its early stages.
The players were given a great reception by the capacity Crucible crowd, who also applauded enthusiastically as Brendan Moore became the first Sheffield referee to take charge of the final.
O’Sullivan looked immediately sharp, winning the initial safety battle in the opening frame before clinching it with a break of 69.
The 38 year-old claimed the second in two scoring visits and made his 11th century of the tournament, 102, to race into a 3-0 lead.
Having been outplayed for three frames, Selby finally got on the scoreboard in the fourth with a run of 37 after O’Sullivan had missed a red to a middle pocket.
Selby also won the fifth after winning a safety battle on the yellow and clearing but he was unlucky in the next when he potted the black, went into the pack of reds and failed to get on one. O’Sullivan sank a long red and made 63 to lead 4-2.
Selby again went into the pack, this time from the blue, on 28 in frame seven but failed to land on a red. He got another chance when O’Sullivan went in-off but lost his way with a poor positional shot, missing a difficult red with the cue ball tight on a side cushion.
But O’Sullivan soon a missed a pink as the session became scrappier and Selby did enough to get to within one frame at 4-3.
O’Sullivan looked set to clinch the eighth but missed a red on 38 and Selby set about a clearance. But the Leicester man lost position on the last red and another safety battle ensued. Selby fluked the red but then missed the black and O’Sullivan cleared to ensure his first session lead.
Selby is appearing in his second World Championship final, having finished runner-up in 2007. O’Sullivan is aiming to become the first player to win three world titles in succession since Stephen Hendry, who won five in a row from 1992 to 1996.
A further nine frames will be played on Sunday night with 18 the target for the record £300,000 first prize.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.