Weary O'Sullivan opens up narrow lead

Ronnie O'Sullivan claims he has never known a Crucible campaign so gruelling but a fourth world title should be his reward for lasting the pace.

O'Sullivan built a 10-7 lead over Ali Carter on the first day of the Betfred.com World Championship final, with 18 the victory target.

He will look to press home that advantage and has also dropped a heavy hint a retirement announcement will follow the match. Whether O'Sullivan goes through with that remains open to question, and perhaps subject to his mood, but he has been giving serious consideration to following Stephen Hendry's lead in walking away from the sport.

To lose one legend in a tournament goes down as a pity, but understandable given Hendry's fading talent; a second in O'Sullivan's case would leave the sport bereft of its greatest entertainer.

If he does quit, O'Sullivan will go out on a thrilling high, but also in an exhausted state.

"This is probably the hardest place to come and play. Seventeen days in Sheffield and I feel like I've been here two months," he said. "For some reason this time it's felt a bit longer. I don't know if it's age catching up, but it never felt this long when I was 21 or 22."

O'Sullivan hit a purple patch of form at the end of the opening afternoon session which illustrated the difference between the players.

A sprint to 92 was followed by a total clearance of 141 in the final frame as Carter slipped 5-3 behind in their all-Essex tussle.

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 semi-final opponent Stephen Maguire on the back of high-precision snooker and intense focus, the influence of Peter Ebdon shining through in his play. Ebdon, the 2002 champion in Sheffield, is helping Carter with mental aspects of the game from behind the scenes, and clearly their relationship is proving fruitful.