BARRY HAWKINS admitted he was as surprised as anyone to ease through to the second round of the Betfred World Championships, where a tie with Scotland’s Graeme Dott awaits.
The world No.7 led Tom Ford 7-2 after the first session and, despite losing the first frame, compounded his advantage to romp to a 10-3 final score.
In truth the damage had already been done on the first day by Hawkins, who had trailed 2-1 before the Crucible got the better of Ford – who has still not made it past the first round in Sheffield.
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But Hawkins was far from left complaining, now set to face 2006 champion Dott for a place in the last eight in Sheffield – a challenge far more difficult than he feels people anticipate.
“I’m delighted to get through, the first round is always a banana skin and I was expecting a closer game than that because I know how well Tom plays,” he said.
“The Crucible does funny things to people and I think it got to him on the first day when I got in front and I broke the back of the match there.
“I know what it’s like to have a tough record here, you just want to come here, win a game and feel part of the tournament.
“I got stronger after the first mini-session and on the second night won from a snooker which was a big moment.
“Graeme has had three finals and won one and he’s someone who seems to thrive at this place. It brings the best out of him – even if he has a terrible year, he qualifies and seems to play well.
“He played very well to beat Ali Carter and I’ll have to play very well to beat him, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Joining Hawkins and Dott in the last 16 is 2010 champion Neil Robertson, himself in comfortable form to get past Thai debutant Noppon Saengkham.
Leading 8-1 after the first session, Robertson’s stranglehold was threatened in the early stages, though breaks of 70 and 76 helped him set up a clash with Marco Fu.
And the ninth seed – who has suffered three first-round exits since lifting the Crucible crown – admitted a sense of professionalism was key for him to get over the line.
“This time last year I was talking after a defeat so I’m very happy to be through, the damage was done yesterday and overall it was a very professional performance,” said Robertson, who this week opened up about his computer gaming addiction away from the table.
“I took advantage of the nerves on his debut and pretty much punished all his mistakes.
“When you’re 8-1 in front you automatically think you’re through, so I was a little slack on a couple of shots, but I regained my focus and was determined to finish it off 10-4.
“Coming here knowing I’ve done everything right and had some great preparation, I feel happier in my game than last year.
“Previously I haven’t felt I’ve put enough time into the World Championships so I made sure of that this year.”
Elsewhere, Thursday night saw the start of what could be one of the best second-round matches seen at the Crucible as Ronnie O’Sullivan took on Shaun Murphy.
Murphy looked in top form – even delivering a shot off two cushions more suited to an exhibition match – to pot a red for a shot of the tournament contender, but found more than his match in the Rocket.
The first five frames all saw breaks greater than 50, with O’Sullivan opening up with 91 before the world No. 5 responded with a break of 84.
But then O’Sullivan showed the form that has seen him become a five-time champion at the Crucible, with breaks of 75, 128 and 76 helping him to a 6-2 lead.
The match already had lots riding on it with a disagreement of sorts between the pair in the media, with the second session taking place on Friday afternoon in the best-of-25 encounter.
Thursday’s other last-16 match saw Stuart Bingham launch an audacious fightback against Kyren Wilson, with the 2015 champion battling back from 5-0 down.
Neither player was on scintillating form early on, though breaks of 71 and 70 saw Wilson almost half-way to the victory target of 13.
But efforts of 52 and 56 have kept Bingham’s head above the water, for now at least, with the momentum behind him when the pair next take to the baize – though the 5-3 scoreline still sits in Wilson’s favour.
The victor from that contest will take on four-time champion Scot John Higgins, so long as he gets past Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen.
Watch the Snooker World Championship Live on Eurosport and Eurosport Player, with Colin Murray and analysis from Jimmy White and Neal Foulds