Ronnie O’Sullivan was edging toward his earliest World Championship exit since 2009 as Barry Hawkins held onto his lead in their gripping second-round clash in Sheffield on Sunday.
Leading 5-3, Hawkins split Sunday’s eight frames with the title favourite to go 9-7 in front, needing four more for victory when the match reaches its climax on Monday evening.
Breaks of 68, 118, 82 and 89 from O’Sullivan showed he is scoring well enough — he also had 139, 88 and 103 on Saturday — but Hawkins clawed his way in front and was fighting to stay there.
O’Sullivan is seeking a sixth victory at the Crucible and a first since 2013.
On the other table John Higgins carved out a 10-6 lead over Ricky Walden, putting the four-time world champion in a good position to set up a quarter-final against fellow Scot Alan McManus.
Earlier, Ding Junhui held all the aces in his second-round tie with Judd Trump, leading 6-2 after Sunday’s morning session.
The Chinese star saw his lead shorten after the evening session as Trump dug in to claw back to 10-6 overnight ahead of Monday’s session.
The pair split the first four morning frames, 2011 runner-up Trump levelling the score at 2-2 when he compiled a break of 106.
But Ding was stung into action, winning the next four to reach the break in dominant form as he closes in on a quarter-final slot.
He made his fourth century of the tournament in the sixth frame, making 112 following Trump’s break.
For Trump there is a sense of history repeating itself, as he had to pull off a great escape to reach the second round against Ding’s fellow countryman Liang Wenbo after falling 7-3 behind.
Ding, who had to qualify for the Crucible after dropping out of the world’s top 16, won a record-equalling five major professional tournaments two years ago.
The 29-year-old has enlisted the services of Wales’ 1979 world champion Terry Griffiths in his bid to win the sport’s premier prize.
And Kyren Wilson resumes with a stunning 7-1 first-session lead over Mark Allen.
In a late Saturday finish, world number one Mark Selby repelled qualifier Sam Baird 13-11.
World number 59 Baird reeled off four consecutive frames to claw his way back to level at 11-11 in the late night thriller before Selby secured the two frames required to book his quarter-final ticket.
Selby said: “I never take anything for granted and I seem to make every match hard work for myself. In patches I felt okay, and in other parts of the game I was very poor.
“At 11-7 I thought I’d done enough to almost get over the line but then my focus went all over the place. (But) I’m still in the tournament and I’ve got a chance to improve.”
Already into the last eight were Hong Kong’s Marco Fu, Scottish veteran McManus and former champion Mark Williams of Wales.