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Champion Selby off to good start
18 Apr 2015 18:06
Mark Selby was straight into an auspicious groove as he began his title defence at the Betfred World Championship on Saturday.
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The 31-year-old from Leicester rocked Ronnie O'Sullivan in last year's final to claim his maiden Crucible title, and returned to ease 6-3 ahead of Kurt Maflin in their first-round best of 19 frames tussle.
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No first-time champion in Sheffield has returned to retain the trophy 12 months on, and that factor has taken the tag of the 'Crucible curse'.
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Selby is equipped with the form to be a repeat winner, having lifted the German Masters and China Open titles this year, and breaks of 84, 108, 53, 69 and 56 gave him a commanding lead to take into the evening session.
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His match with Maflin concludes on Saturday, the only clash to reach a finish on day one of the tournament, and Selby looked like being too strong for his London-born opponent who currently represents Norway, where he has lived for more than a decade.
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Maflin defeated Steve Davis in the qualifying stages, and he beat Selby in Germany last year, but this was a Crucible debut for the 31-year-old.
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Selby, despite being just two months older than Maflin, is an old hand at the tournament, having made his first World Championship appearance 10 years ago.
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They shared the four frames before the mid-session interval, Maflin making runs of 96 and 60, before Selby opened a two-frame lead and then also claimed the seventh after a re-spotted black.
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It looked a pivotal frame, as Maflin twice attempted to double in the black but on the second occasion left Selby a long pot, which he fired assuredly into the centre of the pocket.
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Back came Maflin with an 88 break, but when Selby bustled through the last of the session he had a commanding advantage to take into the concluding session, needing just four more frames to reach the second round.
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Hong Kong cueman Marco Fu took the final frame of the session with a break of 66 to nudge 5-4 in front of Bexhill's Jimmy Robertson.
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Robertson was mauled 10-1 by Selby when making his World Championship debut four years ago, but after qualifying for the second time was making a stronger fist this time.
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The 28-year-old Englishman briefly threatened to make a 147 maximum break, which would have been the 11th in the tournament's history, but missed the 11th red in the fifth frame.
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John Higgins was looking sharp in building a 6-3 overnight advantage against Robert Milkins, the Gloucester player who came through a nerve-jangling final-frame decider against Andrew Higginson on Wednesday to qualify.
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Four-time world champion Higgins sped out to a 5-1 lead with breaks of 41, 72, 64, 62 and 47, but looked set to have his lead cut to a single frame as Milkins fought back.
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When Milkins led 58-0 in the ninth frame, he looked set to be firmly back in the match, but a missed pink gave Higgins hope, and in two scoring visits he finished the session on a high.
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They play to a finish on Sunday night, as do Higgins' fellow Scots Anthony McGill and Stephen Maguire.
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An absorbing opening session between the Glaswegian pair ended dramatically, with McGill on his Crucible debut fluking the snooker he required in the ninth frame, gaining a free ball, and clearing as far as the pink.
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He then misjudged a positional shot and had no option other than to play safe on the black, but when Maguire left it by the green pocket McGill could not miss, as he too clinched a 6-3 advantage.
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Getting the snooker may prove the key shot in the match, having made the difference between McGill leading 5-4, as looked likely, and 6-3.
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McGill could not see the final red, which was in baulk, with pink and blue blocking the way, but the 24-year-old went off the side cushion, lightly clipped his target and the white ran around the angles to come to rest behind the black.
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McGill waved to the crowd as spectators roared their approval, but Maguire was not amused, and the 34-year-old two-time semi-finalist will require his best snooker to turn the match around and avoid a first-round exit on Sunday evening.
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McGill, tipped as a future world champion this week by Scottish veteran Alan McManus, began the match with a break of 92, and looked comfortable at a venue that can intimidate newcomers.
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