sport

O'Sullivan in control at Crucible

Ronnie O'Sullivan was straight into the groove as he opened a commanding lead over Robin Hull in their World Championship first-round clash.

It was proving as one-sided as Hull, the world number 122, must have privately feared, with defending champion O'Sullivan, 7-2 ahead, looking set to complete a crushing victory in Saturday's evening session at the Crucible.

Finnish potter Hull retired in 2008 after coming down with a life-threatening virus, but he felt able to return three years later and has played sporadically since.

It was by overcoming a one-time nemesis of O'Sullivan, Peter Ebdon, that Hull won through the final qualifying stage on Wednesday.

Yet the 39-year-old, playing at the World Championship for just the second time in his career, 12 years after a debut appearance, found the going tough against the man chasing a sixth title in Sheffield, and a third in succession.

O'Sullivan ploughed in a total clearance of 124 in the second frame, adding 69, 81, 60 and 90 as he moved three frames away from the second round.

Looking at ease in the familiar environment, O'Sullivan was being watched by his sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, the man he credits with spurring him to the last two world titles. Peters has also been enlisted by the Liverpool and England football teams, so successful have his associations proven with Britain's Olympic cyclists and O'Sullivan.

Hull had his moments in the session, most notably the 102 break that followed O'Sullivan's century and got him on the scoreboard.

Yet it was a match that appeared to have a pre-destined outcome, and taking into account the early evidence there was nothing to suggest the narrative might include a twist in the later concluding session.

Indeed there might have been a real moment to savour in the final frame of the session. By taking seven reds and blacks at the beginning of the ninth frame, O'Sullivan had an eye on a 147 break, but he could only take blue off the eighth red and eventually settled for 90, more than enough for the 38-year-old to open the five-frame gap.

The 1997 world champion Ken Doherty kissed the theatre's carpet on his way into the arena for his tussle with Stuart Bingham.

Doherty has failed to qualify in three of the last five years but earned a place this time by beating last year's clown prince of the Crucible, Thailand's Dechawat Poomjaeng.

The 44-year-old, the oldest man in the draw, was in trouble when he fell 3-0 behind Bingham, but the 'Darling of Dublin', who usually presents a radio show on Saturday mornings, made his presence felt as he mounted a fightback.

The session was in the balance until Bingham pinched the eighth frame to guarantee himself a lead. It will be with only a slender advantage that he resumes on Sunday, however, after Doherty took frame nine with a flourish to trail 5-4 overnight.

Scotland's Stephen Maguire faces a fight on Sunday to stay in the tournament after slumping 6-3 adrift of Welsh qualifier Ryan Day.

The world number 13 from Glasgow has twice reached Crucible semi-finals but 12 months ago he suffered a soul-destroying first-round exit at the hands of Poomjaeng, and Day was threatening to deliver another body blow.

Maguire began positively as breaks of 71 and 75, sandwiching an exquisite 130 from Day, nudged him 2-1 ahead.

Day, a three-time quarter-finalist in Sheffield who has drifted out of the top 16, reeled off five frames in a row before Maguire took the ninth, vital for his hopes of remaining competitive in Sunday evening's concluding session.

Shaun Murphy was ahead in the fashion stakes but the 2005 champion trailed on the scoreboard against Jamie Cope.

Despite showing impressive form early in the match with breaks of 112, 87 and two runs to 70, Murphy let a 4-2 lead slip away to trail 5-4 in another match that ends on Sunday evening.

In a bold Gatsby-like suit, Murphy may still find the game to match his getup, however Cope's first appearance at the Crucible since 2011 was looking rich in promise as a break of 58 at the end of the session saw him hit the front.

Stoke cueman Cope has struggled badly with a tremor that affects his cueing, but he recently began working with a sports psychologist and the world number 53 sailed through three qualifying rounds to earn the showdown with Murphy.