Ken Doherty has qualified for the World Championship for the first time in two years after beating Dechawat Poomjaeng 10-5 in the final qualifying round in Sheffield.
The Irishman put the disappointment of failing to reach the Crucible last season, as well as what has transpired to be a disastrous following campaign on the tour, behind him to ensure he’ll make his 19th appearance at the special venue.
The 1997 champion started poorly against Thailand’s Poomjaeng, who rose to fame in the 2013 edition when he surprised Stephen Maguire with a charismatic 10-9 victory to reach the last 16.
Doherty fell 4-2 down in a half-dozen frames that were played under dismally slow circumstances and led to early beliefs that the encounter could be in for a late finish.
However, the 44 year-old began to grab a stranglehold on proceedings, helped by his improved ability to score heavily while in among the balls.
Breaks of 53, 62, 58, 51, 100, 97 and 78 offered the Dubliner seven frames in a row to go within one of glory and, though his opponent initially avoided defeat with a 71 of his own, Doherty’s advance was all but a formality by that point.
It marks the beginning of what could be a promising conclusion to what has been a poor season for the six-time ranking event champion having failed to reach the latter stages of any tournament all year.
With an abundance of experience at the Crucible, Doherty will be hoping he can use that to his advantage for perhaps one final concerted effort on the big stage.
It was a mixed bag for the veterans of the baize, though, as not all of Doherty’s fellow old-timers fared quite as well.
Fellow former world champion Graeme Dott went down 10-7 to up-and-coming youngster Kyren Wilson.
Many have tipped 22 year-old Wilson for greatness and he has so far not disappointed as he comes through all four qualifying rounds to reach the venue proper.
The Shanghai Masters quarter-finalist will have his best opportunity yet to express his talent in front of a wider audience and his presence in the draw is an exciting one that potentially marks the rise of one of the game’s future stars.
Two of its older stars in Mark Williams and Alan McManus gamely battled it out in a tie that typically almost went down to a decider.
Scotland’s McManus narrowly avoided the dreaded final frame shoot-out though as he came from behind to see off the twice world winner 10-8.
It’s disappointment for Williams, who will be failing to enter the Crucible stage for the first time since 1996, but the result for 1994 Masters champion McManus is fully deserved as he has enjoyed a rejuvenation in form during the season.
It was a triple blow for Wales as joining Williams on the way home was the man he beat to capture his maiden title in 2000, Matthew Stevens, as well as 26 year-old Jamie Jones.
From 6-3 behind to Tom Ford, Stevens had a lot of work to do and almost was able to bring it the distance but also fell just short and saw his challenger progress 10-8.
2012 quarter-finalist Jones also was sent crashing at the final hurdle, with Michael Holt booking his place at the venue after a 10-6 win, but Dominic Dale saved some of Wales’ blushes as he repeated that scoreline against Andrew Higginson.
England’s Jamie Cope, who has suffered with illness and poor form for a number of years now, ensured his return to the World Championship for the first time in three years after overcoming Mark King 10-7 while David Gilbert, a potential banana skin for many of the top players, also progressed with a 10-6 win over Jimmy Robertson.
Tomorrow sees the final eight qualifying matches completed as the dramatic push for the last remaining places in Thursday’s draw come to an end.