Judd Trump completed a century of centuries as he survived an early scare before successfully kickstarting his Betfred World Snooker Championship title defence with a 10-8 victory over Tom Ford at the Crucible.
The reigning champion was made to dig deep as a slow start saw him trail 3-0 and 5-2 against the Leicester qualifier in Sheffield.
However, the world number one’s quality eventually shone through to ensure he did not become the latest player to fall foul of the notorious Crucible curse.
The highlight of Trump’s performance was a magnificent total clearance of 131 in frame 15, which gave him his 100th century break of a tremendous season that has already seen him capture a record six ranking events.
Returning to the Crucible stage 15 months after lifting the trophy, Trump made a sluggish start in his quest to become the first player to successfully defend his maiden World title.
World number 26 Ford almost capitalised in the perfect way during the opening frame, but broke down on 97 after missing the 13th black when looking certain to complete the sixth maximum of his career.
The qualifier beat Gerard Greene and Stuart Carrington to secure his return to the Crucible three years after his last appearance in the final stages of snooker’s blue-riband event.
He built on his momentum to go 3-0 ahead and although Trump responded with runs of 104 and 61, a wonderful total clearance of 140 helped him pull three frames clear once more at 5-2.
But seeking his first win at the Crucible in four attempts, Ford was made to rue wasted opportunities to extend his advantage. Leading 48-0 in frame nine, a missed pink allowed Trump to clear with 61 and cut the deficit to 5-4.
Although Ford took the opening frame of the evening session on the pink, Trump won the next three to take the lead for the first time in the contest.
A stunning total clearance of 131 helped him move 9-7 in front and saw him become only the second player to achieve 100 centuries in a single season after Neil Robertson in 2013-14.
Ford rallied with 69 to keep his hopes alive, but Trump controlled the next to scrape over the line and book his place in round two.
“I got off to a bad start; you never want to be 3-0 down at the Crucible. It was always going to be an uphill battle thereon,” a relieved Trump told Eurosport.
“To be honest, I’ve never been a quick starter at the Crucible; I’ve always had to scrap through that first round. For me, it takes a little while to get used to surroundings.
“Tom had me really and will be very disappointed with that result. He missed a pink off the spot to go 6-3 up. From then on, I always had the belief that I was going to get back into it.
“I’m just delighted to still be in the World Championship; I could easily have gone out today.”
Elsewhere, three-time World champion Mark Williams trails 5-4 overnight against Alan McManus.
The oldest Crucible qualifier since Steve Davis in 2010, 49-year-old McManus fell 2-0 behind as missed opportunities were pounced on by Williams.
However, the Scotsman responded with breaks of 105 and 84 before completing turnaround by taking frame five on the pink.
The next four frames were shared by the players who boast 43 Crucible appearances between them, setting up a tense finish on Saturday.
Former finalist Ding Junhui also holds a slender 5-4 advantage over Mark King.
Playing his first snooker since lockdown, the 2016 runner-up was pegged back to 4-4 from 3-1 up against the left-hander, who returns to Sheffield for the first time since losing to Ding in round two of the 2013 event.
But a run of 98 in the final frame of the session edged the Chinese ace’s nose back in front.
A single frame also separates 2015 World champion Stuart Bingham and debutant Ashley Carty.
The Masters winner made a break of 90 on his way to taking a 4-2 lead.
However Carty, who secured his tour card as well as a place at the Crucible with victory over Robert Milkins in the final qualifying round, produced timely runs of 118 and 69 as he won two of the last three frames to trail by one overnight.
World Snooker Championship 2020 Schedule
Friday July 31
Judd Trump 10-8 Tom Ford
Stuart Bingham 5-4 Ashley Carty
Ding Junhui 5-4 Mark King
Mark Williams 4-5 Alan McManus