Barry Hawkins is through to the second round of the World Snooker Championship after a hard-fought 10-7 victory over Stuart Carrington on Monday.
With the match finishing just short of passing midnight, Hawkins was able to celebrate the final moments of his 39th birthday – well, by answering questions in the post-match press conference at least.
An unusual stat surfaced on social media stating that it was, in fact, the sixth time that Hawkins had played a match at the Crucible on his birthday – surpassing the previous highest amount of five that was held by Jimmy White.
In recent years, the occasion has been a rewarding one for Hawkins in Sheffield as his triumph over Carrington ensured that he moved beyond the last 32 for the eighth consecutive year.
That this run has materialised following a five-year spell at the start of his Crucible career when he failed to win a single fixture at the venue is a testament to how much he has improved as a player.
Hawkins wasn’t anywhere near his best against Carrington but was predominantly a step or two in front of his fellow Englishman, who himself suffered a third World Championship first-round defeat in four years.
The “Hawk” will advance to the last 16 to face Lyu Haotian, the youngest competitor in this year’s draw, after the 20 year-old Chinese cueist’s 10-5 success against Marco Fu.
Hawkins will be a huge favourite in that due to his experience of handling the big stage and, perhaps more importantly, the longer format that Lyu won’t be at all accustomed to.
With a run to the final, three semi-final appearances, and another place in the quarter-finals in the last five years, Hawkins clearly has the pedigree to be a contender in the 2018 edition but he will likely have to improve on his first performance when he starts running into the heavier hitters.
Also in Hawkins’ quarter is China’s Ding Junhui, who recovered from a slow start in his tie against countryman Xiao Guodong to establish a 6-3 overnight cushion.
Meanwhile, in the other half of the draw, there was a huge shock as Jamie Jones fought back from 8-5 down to deny Shaun Murphy in a match that dramatically went the distance.
Murphy, the champion in 2005, looked to be in complete control when he orchestrated a three-frame advantage at the final mid-session interval but Jones never gave in and, like six years ago at the very same hurdle, managed to prevail in a close encounter with the “Magician”.
By demonstrating an attacking mindset with prolific scoring, Jones proceeded to reach the quarter-finals in 2012 after his win against Murphy, leading many to predict that he had a promising future in the sport.
But it never quite worked out for the Welshman in that fashion and before this tournament began Jones was as low as 51st in the world rankings list – albeit he is set for a significant rise after already guaranteeing himself £27,500 in prize money.
For Murphy, it’s a disappointing end to a season that promised much but one in which he might ultimately walk away from with an air of what might have been.
The 35 year-old impressively triumphed in the Champion of Champions, beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final, but lost three other ranking event finals and failed to acquire any further silverware throughout the campaign.
Murphy’s exit, and the prior demise of the defending champion Mark Selby, has apparently opened up the top quarter of the bracket for the likes of Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson, who will be hoping to set up a repeat of their Masters final showdown in the last eight next week in Sheffield.
Elsewhere, Ricky Walden took control of his opening round clash with Luca Brecel, establishing a 6-3 advantage over the struggling Belgian.
That match will reach its conclusion on Tuesday while the likes of Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, and Stuart Bingham also enter the fray.