The second day in Ally Pally saw both top seeds go through although the matches didn’t really unfold as expected.
A tired Ronnie, who revealed after the match that he had suffered a bad bout of insomnia, beat Stuart Bingham by 6-2. Stuart, who had just won Group 4 in the Championship League snooker, was far from his best and was unable to take advantage of Ronnie’s lapses in concentration.
The evening match saw Ding Junhui take on the only debutant in this years field, Jack Lisowski. Ding wasn’t at his best either but Jack, apparently overawed by the circumstances and environment, was totally unable to take advantage.
China’s Ding won this event in 2011, the last time it was staged at Wembley Arena. Since it has moved to its new home across North London he has never been past the quarter-finals, but he will reach the semis if he can beat Luca Brecel on Thursday evening.
In truth tonight’s scoreline did not reflect the balance of play as Lisowski had chances in most of the frames. He admitted before the tournament that he could struggle to concentrate on his first appearance in snooker’s biggest invitation event, and so it proved as he was unable to take the opportunities which came his way.
Ding won the first frame with a break of 66 and added the second with a 33 clearance after Lisowski had broken down when leading 49-40. Frame three came down to a long safety battle on the pink and Ding converted excellent pots on the pink and black for 3-0. The fourth also could have gone either way but Ding cleared from green to black to snatch it by a point.
World number eight Ding maintained his momentum after the interval with a run of 123 to lead 5-0. Lisowski, who has climbed into the top 16 for the first time after some fine results this season, pulled one back with a break of 60. But Ding won the seventh in three scoring visits to seal the result.
Ding said: “Jack was under more pressure than me, so he made more mistakes. When it’s your first time here you really want to get in front so the first frame was important. The chances were always there but he didn’t take them and sometimes you can get punished.
“For me, no matter how I play, I just want to win. I believe I can do well at this venue for the next few seasons. It’s a good start.
“The Masters is only 16 players. They’re all good and there are no easy games. Even if your opponent’s not playing well it’s still a hard game. Concentration is the first thing.”
Lisowski said: “In the early part of the game I just didn’t settle down fast enough. By the end I felt pretty exhausted. I’ve never played in front of a crowd that involved, it was such a buzz and when I won that frame to go 5-1 it just drained me.
“It’s my first time here so it’s about getting that out of the way and taking it all in. I didn’t feel too bad out there, some of my safety was ok. If I can play my game I think I’ll have a chance eventually. I was pretty nervous before the game, but I actually felt ok out there.
“I was thinking ‘this is why I play’ and this is the atmosphere I want to play in. It was a bit disappointing, but it wasn’t a disaster.”
After the match, Ding appeared happy and relaxed, which is good to see. Only too often in the past he looked unhappy and dispirited even after winning. Ding has to contend with the expectations of a nation since a very young age, all eyes are always on him; this can’t be easy. Becoming a father seems to have brought another dimension to his life.
The first round matches are always a bit of a banana skin for the top seeds, and the main goal is simply to win it, nevermind if it’s brilliantly or ugly. Mission accomplished for Ding and Ronnie yesterday.