Spectators returned to sport on Saturday morning as Ronnie O’Sullivan started the defence of his World Championship crown at the Crucible.

As one of the UK government’s pilot events, which are being used to help England and sport out of lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, the venue in Sheffield opened its doors to fans again.

Six-time world champion O’Sullivan was taking on Mark Joyce in the first session of the tournament, with Martin Gould playing Yan Bingtao on the other table.

All four players walked to the table to applause from the crowd, which was set to be at 33 per cent capacity for the first round.

With sanitiser stations provided around the venue, fans had their tickets scanned before sitting in designated seats socially distanced.

World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn tweeted: “Here we go! Blood sweat and tears but after all the problems and setbacks we are on the brink of a return to normality thanks to the unbelievable efforts of the WeAreWST team.

“My thanks to everyone involved. Now sit back and enjoy the greatest snooker show on earth.”

O’Sullivan was a long way from his best despite establishing a 6-3 lead ahead of Saturday evening’s scheduled conclusion.

In a session scattered with errors, O’Sullivan fired a top break of 70 in the sixth frame as Joyce failed to take advantage of the opportunities that came his way.

The tone for the opening session had been set after just three shots when the players asked the referee to replace the cue ball due to a blemish.

O’Sullivan won the eighth frame after firing a fortunate cross-double blue, then seized on a missed red by Joyce to rack up a break of 69 and establish a three-frame advantage.



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