A FINAL-frame fluke gave Ali Carter hope of reeling in Ronnie O'Sullivan as he narrowed the gap to three frames ahead of today's conclusion of the World Championship final.
Carter missed a long red to the yellow pocket, but it rolled along the top cushion and dropped in the other side for what proved the decisive moment in the final frame of a hard-fought day.
O'Sullivan, however, remains in a strong position to repeat his Crucible triumph over Carter of 2008, with 18 frames the target. The Rocket hit a purple patch at the end of the opening afternoon session which illustrated the difference between the pair.
A sprint to 92 was followed by a total clearance of 141 in the final frame as Carter slipped 5-3 behind in the all-Essex tussle. O'Sullivan has revealed this match could be his last before retiring, and despite making similar claims in the past on several occasions, the prospect of retiring at the pinnacle of the sport, with a fourth world title, holds considerable appeal to the 36-year-old.
The rush of heavy scoring from the firm title favourite was barely in keeping with the action which came before or after it, though, because for much of the opening day the pair were mired in safety exchanges.
Carter had got the better of Stephen Maguire on the back of high-precision snooker and intense focus, the influence of Peter Ebdon shining through his play. Ebdon is helping Carter with mental aspects of the game, and clearly their relationship is proving fruitful.
There are no complaints from O'Sullivan over Carter having a helping hand. "I think it's brilliant," he said. "I had Ray Reardon in my corner for a couple of years and I learnt so much off Ray.
"Peter obviously is a great man to have in your corner and I think Ali's been wise there."
A break of 56 steered O'Sullivan ahead in the first frame, after the pair spent almost 12 minutes toying with each other before the first red dropped. A 117 pushed him 2-0 in front, but Carter levelled to 2-2, and again to 3-3. O'Sullivan then surged away to 9-5 and 10-6, before Carter took a tight closing frame.
World Snooker Championship
Live, BBC2/Eurosport, 2.30/7.30