JAMIE Burnett will return to the Crucible today on the verge of a fine upset as he leads the seeded Joe Perry by 6-3 after the first session of their World Snooker Championship first-round clash.
Burnett’s last appearance at the World Championship in Sheffield was a disappointing 10-2 exit to current world No 2 and in-form potter Ding Junhui at the first hurdle.
But on his return this year, Burnett is proving he has the ability to mix it with snooker’s elite, ending with a streak of four successive frames to leave Perry staring at an early exit.
The pair resume battle this morning and Burnett will be hoping to start the second session in the same way as the first after breezing to an 82 break to snare the opening frame.
From then on, neither player approached his fluent best before the mid-session interval – Perry ground out two frames in succession with breaks of 49 and 59, before coming undone by two of Burnett’s snookers that tied the game up.
Perry did snatch the lead after his return but Burnett raced away to take the next four consecutive frames to leave the world No 15 with an uphill task.
The prize for passage to the second round for Burnett will be a date with champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who is gunning for a third successive title at the Crucible.
Meanwhile the championship’s oldest competitor, at 44, former world champion Ken Doherty, made it through to the second stage for the first time since 2006 in overcoming Stuart Bingham 10-5.
Doherty won six successive frames to make a clean sweep of the second session – setting up a tie against either Scots John Higgins or Alan McManus.
“I was starting to get really emotional. When I went 9-5 up, I started to feel the nerves a little bit but I was loving every minute,” he said. “I don’t know how many more times I’m going to be here again. I have to savour every moment. I’ve had a lot of special memories out there and they came flooding back.”
Elsewhere, Ali Carter wrapped up his first-round match with unseeded Xiao Guodong by the skin of his teeth as the Chinese potter, in his first appearance at the Crucible, ran him close in a 10-8 victory.
But Carter, who will either play Mark Selby or Welshman Michael White in the second round, believes that tight first-round win stands him in good stead for a deep run.
“It sets me up for a good tournament,” said Carter. “Every match you play is tough and to come through with a 10-8 win against an in-form qualifier, possibly one of the toughest qualifiers I could have faced, is a good sign.
“For him to go 8-8 out there was massive, and all credit to myself for making an 80 break and playing a granite last frame there to see it through.”
Underdog Michael Wasley handed Ding a fright as they began their own first-round clash but will enter today’s second session 6-3 down in his maiden World Championship.
Ding is gunning for a season-record sixth ranking title at snooker’s blue riband event but struggled to match Wasley, who lives in Gloucester, early on at 2-1 down. However the Chinese player, who has made a perfect break of 147 five times in his career, finished the session firmly in control, making a masterful 136 in taking the final four frames of the day.
Today the all-Scottish tie between four-time world champion John Higgins and qualifier and friend Alan McManus will start in the afternoon session in Sheffield. The pair will face each other for the third time on tour since 2011 after McManus overcame two-time Crucible winner Mark Williams in the final qualifying round last week.
World No 3 Selby also opens up his World Championship campaign against 22-year-old Welshman White, who reached the quarter-final stage last year.
In the evening Ricky Walden – who reached the semi-final 12 months ago – will square off against World Championship debutant Kyren Wilson.
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