Stuart Bingham blamed sanitised balls for his struggle to get over the line against qualifier Ashley Carty in an empty Crucible on Saturday.
The former world champion, who had fashioned a 5-4 lead in the opening session in front of a handful of fans on Friday, went on to win 10-7 and become the first player to wrap up victory since fans were belatedly barred from the event.
Although the World Snooker Tour stressed there are no additional protocols in place with regard to cleaning the balls, Bingham said: “I felt lost with the table and the balls. I don’t know whether they had been sanitised.
“I played a red near the green pocket, and screwed back past the blue pocket – I’ve never done that in my life. But it is what it is, and if it’s sanitised, you’ve just got to get on with it.”
Bingham had turned his slender overnight lead into a 9-4 advantage, including coming close to his first Crucible maximum in the 11th frame, when he missed a long red after potting 12 reds and blacks.
But local boy Carty rallied, taking the next three frames to reduce the deficit to 9-7 and leave Bingham with uncomfortable memories of last year’s first round clash with Graeme Dott, in which he let slip an 8-1 lead and eventually limped over the line in a final frame decider.
Bingham, who eventually wrapped up victory with a break of 82, admitted: “It was all I was thinking about from the moment he started coming back, and I was very grateful to get over the line in the end.
“It made it a little bit harder knowing what can happen, that it can so easily slip away from you frame by frame. With the memories, I was getting a little bit anxious, so I was happy that I made a good break in the end.”
Ding Junhui held his nerve in a final frame decider against Crucible veteran Mark King to book a potential second-round meeting with Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The Chinese 11th seed could not shrug off his dogged opponent, who pulled back from 9-7 behind but failed to convert a strong match-winning opportunity of his own, and a brilliant long final red cued up a relieved Ding to clear to blue and win the match.
Afterwards, the former finalist, who withdrew from the Tour Championships in June over coronavirus fears, said he never considered pulling out of the Crucible, unlike over a dozen of his Chinese contemporaries.
“I wasn’t going to pull out,” said Ding. “The last tournament in June was too early for me, but I made the decision for the worlds and I practised for a month to get ready.
“I am feeling good and I am hitting the ball well, but it is difficult to play in the summer with this humidity. But I did not fear that I was going to lose this match.”
Third seed Mark Williams believes his renewed appetite for the game has given him a realistic chance of a fourth world title after cruising to a 10-5 win over Alan McManus.
The Welshman resumed 5-4 down against the veteran Scot but barely had to get out of second gear as a series of uncharacteristic errors by McManus saw him sweep six frames in succession.
Williams said: “After my 2018 win I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone. Those so-called doubters out there can’t doubt me any more.
“I’m just going to enjoy it however far I get, and whatever happens it won’t be for a lack of trying.”
Four-time champion John Higgins won four frames in succession to establish a 6-3 lead over Matthew Stevens at the end of the opening session of their first-round clash.