WALES’s Matthew Stevens became the first man into the Australian Open quarter-finals with a 5-2 win over Ireland’s Fergal O’Brien in Bendigo on Tuesday.
A couple of stolen frames helped the former UK champion and twice world finalist on his way, notably the sixth to put him 4-2 ahead, before finishing the contest with a flourish and a break of 105, the highest of the match.
Stevens, 36, has still won only the one ranking title, a fact that must rate as one of the bigger mysteries in snooker. But his draw could certainly have been worse Down Under, and the world No18 from Carmarthen could yet be a big factor in Victoria.
He must wait however to discover his next opponent, and that will be whoever comes through the matches involving Barry Hawkins and Peter Ebdon, and then the winner against Xiao Guodong.
Last season’s Shanghai Masters finalist Guodong trailed Liam Highfield 2-1 – but won the last four frames for a 5-2 win, finishing with confident runs of 70 and 71.
Recent Wuxi Classic winner Neil Robertson is delighted to be back on home soil and seeking a first win in the event, but disappointed that Marco Fu was not defending his title.
Attendance has been mixed this year for the tournament, with Fu, world champion Mark Selby, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ding Junhui absent but others who have not always made the trip showing up including Judd Trump, John Higgins, Mark Allen (who lost early to O’Brien) and Stephen Maguire.
Earlier in the event the two Australian wild-cards – Johl Younger and Matthew Bolton - were despatched without winning a frame by Dominic Dale and Andrew Higginson respectively.
And ahead of Tuesday’s evening games featuring Higgins v Rob Milkins and Maguire v Jamie Jones there were also first-round wins for Ricky Walden, Stuart Bingham, Mark Joyce and Mark Davis.
Home favourite Robertson, born and raised in nearby Melbourne, kicks off his campaign against Higginson on Wednesday evening after some recovery time from his China exploits.
Photographs by Monique Limbos