Steve Davis beat Ali Carter 4-3 in the opening round of the Welsh Open today in Newport to once again prove his remarkable ability, temperament and standing in the sport.
At 54 years of age, Davis is by far the oldest player remaining on the tour – only Jimmy White comes close, himself reaching the the big five-0 in May – but keeps on mixing it with players that are up to 35 years or more his junior on the professional circuit.
After coming through two qualifying rounds in final frame thrillers to reach the venue stage in Wales, Davis was probably secretly pleased with his draw after a dismal twelve months for former champion Carter.
The Essex pilot is suffering from a severe lack of confidence and motivation but actually didn’t put in a terrible performance against the six-time world champion.
Indeed, Davis was playing to such a high standard the likes of which we probably haven’t seen since his shock run to the quarter-finals at The Crucible in 2010.
The first four frames were shared with an excellent 121 century break the highlight from Davis before Carter appeared to take control of the encounter with a single scoring visit of his own to regain the lead at 3-2.
Carter then established an early advantage in the sixth frame but Davis responded to force his third decider in the last few days and duly knocked in a 117 clearance to see out a superb triumph.
It is hard lines on Carter who could have done with a decent run in an event, any event, but especially one in which he has been very successful in the past.
However, it is testament to Davis’ love for the game that he can still produce at such a high level and begs the question can he remain on the Main Tour as he approaches 60?
The Londoner’s last ranking event title was in this very tournament 17 years ago and who’s to say that he can’t pull off one last (last) hurrah in the twilight of his career. Probably not, but you never do know.
The Nugget’s opponent in the last 16 will be another former world champion in Shaun Murphy, who overcame an early 2-0 deficit to Mark Joyce in completing a 4-2 victory.
Murphy has enjoyed a highly consistent season with an array of quarter-finals and semi-finals, as well as the runner-up accolade at The Masters, under his belt but will be eager to add to his trophy cabinet and strike while the iron is hot.
Joyce’s defeat, meanwhile, ensures that Jimmy White maintains his place in the top 48 in the world rankings and therefore will only have two qualifying rounds to appear at the World Championship for the first time since 2006.
Another ranking dilemma that was quickly sorted out was that of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s, who is now assured his ticket to Sheffield as an elite top 16 member thanks to Mark Davis’ heavy defeat to Ding Junhui.
China’s Ding outplayed Davis and will be hoping for an extended run in a ranking event for the first time this season.
His form has been so patchy that the former UK and Masters champion has dropped to as low as 10 in the world rankings – which is amazing really.
It doesn’t get any easier for the 24 year-old with the challenge of John Higgins in the second round but the Scot too is under his own pressure to perform and defend a title he has claimed in each of the last two campaigns.
Higgins ousted Liang Wenbo 4-1 in comfortable enough fashion while Judd Trump found it even easier against Dubliner Fergal O’Brien.
Elsewhere, the improving Tom Ford saw off Graeme Dott 4-2 and, in two final qualifying round matches held over for the televised stages, both home favourites Ryan Day and Dominic Dale were sent tumbling by Michael Holt and Sam Baird respectively.
It was an especially excellent display from 23 year-old Baird – 82nd in the world rankings – who has come through all four qualifying rounds, knocking in breaks of 141 and 136 along the way, with his reward a clash against world number one Mark Selby in the last 32.