Ronnie lets snooker do the talking but Shaun Murphy trickshot steals the show

O’Sullivan holds 6-2 overnight lead in second round at Betfred World Championship

Shaun Murphy and Ronnie O’Sullivan during day six of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucble Theatre, Sheffield. Photograph: PA

Shaun Murphy and Ronnie O’Sullivan during day six of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucble Theatre, Sheffield. Photograph: PA

 

Ronnie O’Sullivan bids to take another step towards more Crucible glory on Friday after setting aside off-table controversy to make a stunning start against Shaun Murphy.

A 6-2 overnight lead for O’Sullivan in the second round at the Betfred World Championship did not flatter the five-time champion, who was close to his very best in the opening session as Murphy struggled.

The fractious relationship between the pair has given the match a tense undercurrent, with Murphy openly critical of O’Sullivan this week after the 41-year-old made a complaint of bullying against World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn and the sport’s authorities.

Murphy also labelled O’Sullivan “our snooker celebrity”, and such remarks from the 2005 world champion appeared to motivate his opponent as their clash began on Thursday evening.

O’Sullivan said bluntly at a literary festival last year that Murphy was a player he disliked.

“We don’t relate,” O’Sullivan told an amused audience.

And as he fired breaks of 91, 75, 128, 76 and 74 in streaking clear, O’Sullivan set up the possibility of beating Murphy with a session to spare, just as he did in their quarter-final three years ago when posting a savage 13-3 win.

The victory target is the same in this match, which resumes with eight frames on Friday afternoon and has another session scheduled for Saturday morning.

Arguably the highlight on Thursday for Murphy was a trick shot he produced to sink a red in the fifth frame, but such moments of satisfaction for the 34-year-old were rare.

O’Sullivan’s rival players have expressed mixed views about his complaints, with John Higgins and Neil Robertson sympathetic. But Murphy said the allegations were “completely wrong”, in keeping with Hearn’s own response.

Robertson, who was champion in 2010, and 2013 runner-up Barry Hawkins secured second-round places with emphatic opening wins on Thursday.

In light of O’Sullivan’s remarks, which were triggered by a disciplinary letter he received after the Masters, Robertson believes player contracts need to be rewritten to ensure leading stars have a greater say in how the tour is run.

Robertson said: “At the end of the season, the top 32 players have got to get together and we’ve got to get a lawyer to represent us, and have certain things taken out of the players’ contracts.”

At least one quarter-finalist will be known by the end of Friday, with Stuart Bingham and Kyren Wilson playing morning and evening sessions to complete their last-16 match. Bingham, a surprise champion two years ago, fell 5-0 adrift of Wilson on Thursday before swiping three frames in a row to revive his chances at 5-3 behind.

Last year’s runner-up Ding Junhui and Chinese compatriot Liang Wenbo get under way in the second round, as do John Higgins and Mark Allen.

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