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World Snooker Championship: Ronnie O’Sullivan beats Mark Joyce as fans return to Crucible

Venue: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Dates: 17 April-3 May
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four and Red Button, with uninterrupted coverage on BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app.

Ronnie O’Sullivan began the defence of his World Championship title with a 10-4 first-round win over Mark Joyce as fans were allowed into sporting events in the UK for the first time in 2021.

A total of 632 tickets were sold for Saturday’s three sessions at the Crucible as part of a pilot scheme after an easing of Covid restrictions.

Six-time champion O’Sullivan led 6-3 after an unconvincing first session.

But he won in style, with three tons in a row getting him over the line.

More than 200 fans attended each session and organisers hope a capacity crowd of 980 will be able to see the final on 2 May.

O’Sullivan told BBC Sport: “It was really nice to have the crowd in because if there was no crowd I could have sunk even lower into my chair.

“You always like to keep them happy because they pay their money to have a good night out.

“I was pleased I played all right towards the end. It was disastrous until then.”

Hendry in sight

O’Sullivan said he needs to stop thinking about his cue action and think about “just potting balls” if he stands a chance of matching Stephen Hendry’s modern-era record of seven world titles.

The Englishman drew level with Ray Reardon and Steve Davis on six with his success at the rearranged 2020 World Championship in August.

The first session was not entirely convincing, despite breaks of 63, 58, 70 and 69 helping the 45-year-old build a 6-3 advantage over debutant Joyce, 37.

But O’Sullivan – the world number two and top seed – turned on the style in the evening, with a score of 58 followed by breaks of 124, 137 and 112, to close out victory over the world number 46.

He will face Ricky Walden or Anthony McGill in the second round.

Snooker fans return to Crucible

Spectators have to go through a four-stage process to get in to the Crucible

Fans were back watching snooker in person for the first time since the delayed 2020 World Championship finished on 16 August.

The near 1,000-seat venue will hold up to 33% capacity for the first round, increasing to 50% for the second round. The quarter-finals and semi-finals will see 75% capacity, with the aim to have a full house for the final.

Fans attending have to show a negative Covid test result, sign a consent form, show photo identification and their e-ticket, as well as logging in to the NHS track and trace app.

Before the action got under way, a small group gathered outside the Crucible to protest at fans being allowed back in the venue.

But World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn had told BBC Sport it is vital the tournament is a success because snooker is “sending out a message to all other indoor sports, and cinemas and theatres”.

“The data that comes from this is going to be vital to getting to the land of milk and honey of normality,” he added.

Robertson seizes control

Earlier, reigning Masters champion Yan Bingtao scored five half-centuries, but is level at 4-4 with qualifier Martin Gould.

In the afternoon session, the 2010 champion Neil Robertson seized control against China’s Liang Wenbo, scoring a century and four other breaks of more than 50 to take a 6-3 lead.

The Australian’s impressive break-building put Liang was under constant pressure throughout but the world number 29 managed to score two 70-plus breaks, and won the final frame with a brilliant 126 to stay in touch.

On table two, a scrappy contest featuring just one break of more than 50 saw world number eight Stephen Maguire lead Welsh qualifier Jamie Jones 3-0 but lose the next five before rallying to end the session trailing 5-4.

Play was paused for a period of silence during their matches on Saturday afternoon to mark Prince Philip’s funeral at 15:00 BST.

All four players and the two referees wore wear black armbands as a mark of respect to the late Duke of Edinburgh.

The other evening match saw 2019 semi-finalist David Gilbert in dominant form as he scored three centuries and three further breaks of more than 50 to go 7-2 up on fellow Englishman and good friend Chris Wakelin.


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