The inside track, with Betfred TV’s Matt Hulmes

Day 4 at the Betfred World Snooker Championship began with Ronnie O’Sullivan lighting up the Crucible and wrapping up his first round tie against Thepchiya Un-Nooh in a record quick time.

The Rocket picked up where he left on Sunday, after his fine first session that saw him take a 8-1 advantage, which included two century breaks and an average shot time of 13.4 seconds! It concluded the fastest ever match witnessed in World Championship history.

The Rocket was happy with his display, saying afterwards “I still had to pot the balls and still had to make the breaks which is always pleasing and I’ve put quite a lot of practice in the last two weeks on proper match tables and I’ve found for the last two or three years I’ve been at sea with the match conditions.”

One punter was so impressed with the five time World Champion’s performance that they placed a £33,000 bet with the sponsors on O’Sullivan to win the tournament and now shares favouritism with Judd Trump at 11/4.

He joins other former World Champions John Higgins and Neil Robertson in the last 16, after they came through against Matthew Stevens and Liang Wenbo respectively, both winning 10-5.

Despite being beaten in the last three Crucible finals, Higgins insist he is still an underdog, despite playing more matches at the Crucible than any other player over the last seven years.

The Wizard of Wishaw said “In the big events, I’ve let myself down, not played well in them. IN the Masters and the UK (Championship) and the Tour Championship recently. I’m coming in here a big underdog. The good thing is, in the last month, I’ve been putting a lot of work in, playing all the Scottish boys and feel I’ve been hitting the ball pretty good coming down here.”

Neil Robertson won the title a decade ago and is stunned he has never made it to a final since, something he wants to correct in 2020.

The Thunder from Down Under said “It’s disappointing I’ve not been back to the final (since 2010) and like I’ve said in other interviews recently, I don’t believe any player has any right to win it multiple times, but what is surprising I’ve won so many tournaments since, longer format ones as well, but it’ surprising I’ve not been back to the final since and it’s a stat I need to address.

“You look at John Higgins, he comes out of sessions 4-4 when he should be losing 6-2, I probably come out of sessions 4-4 when I should be wining 6-2.”

David Gilbert became the first seeded casualty of this year’s championship when succumbing 10-8 to Kurt Maflin late on Sunday evening following a tense battle.

History was made earlier in this game as it contained six century breaks, the most ever for a first round World Championship match, but the closing stages were tense and edgy, with plenty of positional play with Maflin finally coming through after a warning at the start of the seventeenth frame after he expressed his frustrations.

The action continues apace though as another pair of former World Champions get their tournament underway today.

Shaun Murphy takes on Noppon Saengkham this afternoon on what will be an emotional Crucible campaign for the Magician. The 2005 winner recently lost his manager and great friend Brandon Parker to illness and any success at the tournament will no doubt be dedicated to his memory.

Parker also managed a host of players playing in Sheffield, including Barry Hawkins, Neil Robertson and Kyren Wilson but it was Murphy who was closest to the Manchester native, who also sat on the WST board and he will be a much missed personality in the sport and beyond.

Mark Selby also begins his championship this evening with the three-time winner taking on Browne, who makes his Crucible debut. The Northern Irishman has been practicing with fellow countryman Mark Allen, and it will be interesting to see how he takes to the most famous snooker stage of all against the ‘Jester from Leicester’, who has already landed two ranking titles this season and has his sights set on a fourth World Crown.

Sit back, stay safe and enjoy the Snooker.

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