The World Championship qualifiers came to a conclusion on Wednesday with 16 players emerging from Ponds Forge to complete the last 32 line-up at the Crucible.
As always, there was plenty of drama and tension in Sheffield as a coveted place in the main draw was at stake, and it was that extra bit thrilling for the viewer this year with the additional YouTube service provided by World Snooker showing free coverage of the majority of Judgement Day’s exciting encounters.
By the end of a hard week in which the competitors were forced to complete three victories to earn the right to play at the Crucible, the cream elevated themselves above the rest as 12 out of the 16 qualifiers hail from inside the world’s top 32 – with the top 16 also already guaranteed their automatic spots of course.
Ding Junhui was arguably the highest profile player ever to contest the qualifiers – certainly at this stage of his career – but he made light work of proceedings and finished the job off by comfortably beating Nigel Bond 10-2.
The Chinese no.1 only surrendered seven frames in total across his three wins, leading many to believe that this workout may have been a blessing in disguise for someone who has traditionally struggled to peak at the World Championship.
It was disappointment, though, for Ken Doherty, who lost seven out of the last eight frames to fall 10-6 at the last hurdle to Welshman Ryan Day.
Elsewhere, the majority of the expected names progressed.
Former world champions Peter Ebdon and Graeme Dott beat Ian Burns and Mike Dunn respectively while twice runner-up Ali Carter withstood a spirited fight back from Dominic Dale to eventually get over the winning line 10-6.
Shanghai Masters victor Kyren Wilson recorded the same scoreline over two-time finalist Matthew Stevens, as Liang Wenbo and David Gilbert, runners-up in ranking events this season, advanced as well.
Scotland’s Alan McManus ensured he will appear at the Crucible for a 20th occasion, and fourth in a row, by hammering Jimmy Robertson 10-2, while countryman Anthony McGill returns to the scene of his famous run to the quarter-finals in 2015 after ending Thepchaiya Un-Nooh’s hopes.
Englishmen Robert Milkins and Michael Holt will also feature again at snooker’s Holy Grail after hard-fought triumphs over Kurt Maflin and Mark King respectively.
Somewhat surprisingly, considering the amount of ties that were close following the conclusion of the opening session, only three of the encounters went the distance – and all saw successes for players ranked outside the top 32.
England’s Mitchell Mann will be the only debutant in this year’s edition after he held off Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng with a superb single-scoring visit in the decider.
Sam Baird pinched a topsy-turvy battle with Liam Highfield while Robbie Williams secured his third qualification in a row by sinking the final pink in the most dramatic climax of the day against Anthony Hamilton.
Williams, along with McManus, are the only two players to remain undefeated at Ponds Forge since the qualifying stages moved there in 2014.
Finally, Zhang Anda made it three Chinese names in the draw after overpowering young compatriot Zhou Yuelong.
So there we have it, the qualifiers are now known and the real business gets under way on Saturday when reigning champion Stuart Bingham walks through the curtains and down the steps into the cauldron arena to attempt to become the first first-time champion to return and successfully defend the crown.
Who he, and everybody else, will be playing in the first round will be determined today at 10am when the eagerly anticipated draw takes place.
That draw, in all its mighty glory, will be published on this website as soon as it is complete.