Ronnie O’Sullivan claimed his first victory since winning his sixth world title by coming behind to beat French youngster Brian Ochoiski 4-2 at the English Open.
Following his latest Crucible triumph in August, O’Sullivan suffered a shock loss to Irish teenager Aaron Hill at the European Masters and then withdrew from the Championship League due to its Covid-19 isolation rules.
Another surprise seemed to be on the cards in his first round in Milton Keynes on Monday as 21-year-old Ochoiski, the world number 127, opened up a 2-0 lead with aid of a break of 105.
But O’Sullivan – sporting pink nail varnish to raise awareness of breast cancer – responded strongly to take the next four in succession, recording a century of his own (113) in frame two.
“It was a tough match,” O’Sullivan said. “Every time I played a certain shot I expected him to play a certain shot but he didn’t, so I thought I might as well just go for everything, push the boat out and play as carefree as he was. It worked out all right.”
O’Sullivan said he was happier to compete this week as more time between matches allowed him to leave the bubble environment.
“You can come for your test and go,” said the 44-year-old. “I have bad stomach problems so I have to be careful what I eat. I couldn’t get my own food (at the Championship League). This is a lot easier.
“I’m going to get the train, spend a day at home and come back.
“Even though they do the tests I am ultra careful when I come to the venue. You don’t even want to mix with anybody just in case they get caught and then you’ve got to isolate for two weeks.”
O’Sullivan’s comments came after world number 48 Stuart Carrington and referee Andrew Barklam were forced to withdraw from the tournament after testing positive for coronavirus. Sam Craigie, who came into contact with Carrington on Sunday, also pulled out.
O’Sullivan said coronavirus had forced him to change his schedule this year.
He said: “Before Covid hit I was just going to focus on China for the rest of my career. That’s where all the big tournaments are but no-one knows what’s happening with China now, so we’re forced into playing these events here.”
O’Sullivan admits he could miss the Masters again this season after withdrawing from January’s event at Alexandra Palace.
“I didn’t miss playing in the Masters last year,” he said. “To be be honest I don’t really enjoy that tournament much.”
Defending champion Mark Selby continued his recent resurgence by brushing aside Fan Zhengyi 4-0. Neil Robertson saw off Lyu Haotian by the same score but Stephen Maguire lost 4-1 to Sunny Akani.
Ding Junhui edged out Si Jiahui 4-3 while Mark Allen claimed a hard-fought 4-2 win over Mark King.
Veteran Jimmy White was beaten 4-1 by Michael Holt and let his frustration show at one point by throwing the rest on the floor after missing a pot.