Ronnie O’Sullivan hit back from 3-0 and 5-3 down to edge out Ding Junhui in a deciding frame epic in the opening round of The Masters in Milton Keynes on Wednesday.
O’Sullivan looked to be heading for his earliest Betfred Masters exit in a decade but dug deep to reel off the final three frames and extend his unbeaten record over China’s number one in the competition.
O’Sullivan had mustered just 42 points in the opening three frames as Ding raced clear, and though ‘The Rocket’ pulled back to 3-2 behind, 2011 champion Ding fired in a brace of centuries on his way to making it 5-3.
However, he missed a host of chances to put the game to bed, allowing O’Sullivan off the hook to force a decider, which he sealed in style with a break of 73.
“I just had to hang in there and you never know until it’s over,” O’Sullivan told BBC Sport. “I just tried to stay positive so I went back to my mindset of Sheffield and it got me in the zone.
“I still made mistakes but was able to respond quicker.
“If your mindset is right, you can play badly and still get chances. Today I dug in and my mental skills were good and it puts a bit of doubt into your opponent.
“Whether you play well or not, if you have that level of intensity the game can swing back in your favour.”
O’Sullivan awaits the winner of tonight’s clash between two-time Masters champion John Higgins and 2018 champion Mark Allen in the Quarter-Finals.
Ding, who has now lost his last four consecutive matches against the six-time World Champion, admitted: “I had good chances to win the match but did not make them.
“I sometimes made it complicated to win frames, I just needed to take simple shots and take the points. I sometimes confused myself.
“Ronnie played a bit better than the first half and I sometimes chose the wrong positional shots.”
A dream start for Ding saw him produce breaks of 83, 75 and 73 in storming into a 3-0 lead.
O’Sullivan got off the mark in style prior to the interval with a break of 103, before returning to make a 60 break in the following frame with largely low-value colours to trail 3-2.
Ding registered his first century of the contest in frame six with a stunning 129 clearance, but only for O’Sullivan to hit back immediately with a ton of his own.
The supreme one-visit standard continued as Ding landed a break of 128 to go within a frame of victory at 5-3.
However, a miss on a routine red to the left middle pocket proved costly in frame nine as O’Sullivan seized his reprieve to remain in the match.
The reigning World Champion followed up with a break of 85 to force a decider and duly completed the comeback with a clinical break of 73 to remain in the running for an eighth Masters crown.