Jimmy White comfortably dispatched an out of sorts Xiao Guodong to reach the final qualifying round for the 2013 World Championship in Sheffield last night.
The ‘Whirlwind’ delighted his legion of fans around the world by recording a 10-4 victory over the Chinese youngster, ensuring the Londoner is now only one win away from a long-awaited return to the Crucible.
It has been seven years since the now 50 year-old last performed on the famous stage – that year losing to recent Snookerbacker Classic champion David Gray in the opening round.
But White has created so many memories and endeared himself to millions of fans globally with his displays at the venue that spanned 25 years.
Of course, this loyal set of followers were given the depressing emptiness of despair just as much as the dizzying heights of elation.
Six fabulous runs to the final were all to be denied the taste of triumph – four times by arch nemesis Stephen Hendry and one each by Steve Davis and John Parrott.
Two of those occasions were to end agonisingly.
However, there was his 147 maximum break in 1992 when the achievement was still a very rare feat as well as two separate but memorable victories over Hendry either side of all the misery – as well as many other magical moments in an illustrious career.
In yesterday’s encounter, White looked the much more composed of the pair as he clearly benefited from the confidence boosting success over Tian Pengfei in the previous round.
The former UK and Masters champion raced into a 3-1 lead at the mid-session interval and extended that to 6-2 before Xiao took the last frame of the morning’s play to trail by only three.
But the PTC Grand Finals quarter-finalist was being put under immense pressure from his vastly more experience opponent throughout and the nerves showed with Xiao’s lacklustre safety play.
White, on the other hand, while still making the odd mistake as players tend to do when they age, appeared to be in the zone.
In the past, Jimmy has had a tendency to get uptight when his display did not meet his expectations, yet yesterday he was putting any errors immediately to the back of his mind – the bigger picture is the ultimate prize of experiencing the Crucible roar one more time after all.
For many years the question was “will this be Jimmy’s year?” in terms of whether he could finally lift the famous World Championship trophy.
Well, those opportunities are almost certainly behind him but these days the question remains the same.
“Will this be Jimmy’s year?” – except now everybody’s asking if this will be the season where he can finally qualify again to the delight of those adoring fans.
Robert Milkins stands between White and the Crucible, and, with the greatest of respect to the Gloucester man, I for one hope that Jimmy can.
While one legend continued his progress, another’s came to an end as six-time champion Steve Davis was ousted 10-7 by Kurt Maflin.
The match appeared to be heading the distance when tied at 6-6 but Norway’s Maflin crucially nicked the 13th to take the lead and then finished strongly, aided by a brace of tons, to send the ‘Nugget’ back to the BBC studio.
It was a great day for the English trio that had a Thai typhoon to deal with as Jack Lisowski, Ben Woollaston and Matthew Selt defeated James Wattana, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon respectively.
21 year-old Lisowski, in particular, looked strong in his 10-4 triumph over two-time semi-finalist Wattana, knocking in a century and seven further breaks over 50 to continue an upsurge in the Cheltenham runner’s form of late.
Lisowski recently reached the quarter-finals of the China Open and has Ireland’s Fergal O’Brien to overcome if he is make a debut appearance at the Worlds.
Selt, meanwhile, must contend with the other Dubliner in the draw, 1997 champion Ken Doherty.
Finally, Wales’ Michael White, who like Lisowski is widely regarded as a player who has the talent to step up into the big time at any given moment, recorded a 10-5 scoreline over Zhang Anda – confounding a dreadful day for the Asian contingent.
Meanwhile, four other clashes reached the midway point with Tony Drago and Alan McManus holding narrow 5-4 leads over David Gilbert and Nigel Bond respectively.
China’s number two Liang Wenbo boasts a 7-2 advantage over Jimmy Robertson while Rod Lawler enjoys a similar cushion against Scotland’s Anthony McGill.
This afternoon sees the conclusion of these ties with the remaining six matches in this round taking place also.
Arguably the most eagerly anticipated of those is that involving Joe Swail, who began in the amateur preliminary rounds and has since won five matches to get this far.
If the Northern Irishman is to continue his remarkable journey he must first deal with the challenge of England’s Mark Joyce, before a potential clash with the always unpredictable Michael Holt.
Since reaching the last 8 twelve months ago, Jamie Jones has endured a torrid time on the Main Tour but redemption could be gained if the Welshman was to mimic his achievements again this year.
The 25 year-old plays Liam Highfield while Sam Baird and Alfie Burden take on Rory McLeod and Dave Harold in a pair of all-English battles.
Lastly, China’s Yu Delu and Dechawat Poomjaeng of Thailand will attempt to enhance pride in Asian snooker once again when they meet Jamie Burnett and Anthony Hamilton.
The qualifiers have been typically dramatic so far and there’ll undoubtedly be even more drama by the end of today’s play again.
Crucible Countdown: 9 Days!
The full draw and results can be viewed by clicking here.