Thursday, 7 April 2011

Crucible Countdown: 9 days to go

We're down to single figures in days until the greatest snooker event on earth kicks off.

Thirty-two players fighting it out at the Crucible for the prestige of the World Championship.

OnCue has been bringing you day-by-day build-up, already looking at at the fortunes of the some of the biggest names in the hat.

But today, it's time to take a look at the two Crucible debutants.

Qualifying can be a long and cruel road to the World Championship.

But Andrew Pagett and Jimmy Robertson didn't let that deny them as they both won four matches to make sure they'll become the 178th and 179th players to respectively appear at the Crucible.

Any player will tell you how special it is to make your first Crucible appearance. No matter what the result, it's great moment in every player's career. And of course there is the chance of instant stardom.

One of the most famous debuts was for Tony Drago, who in 1988 progressed to the second week beating both Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor along the way. Peter Ebdon marked his maiden appearance with a first round win against six-time champion Steve Davis in 1992.

Then there was Andy Hicks, who in 1995 advanced to the semi-finals thanks to wins against Davis, Willie Thorne and Ebdon.

But it's not always glamorous. With the whole of the snooker world watching, the pressures of adapting to a new setting and playing in front of the big lights, this proud moment can soon turn into a nightmare, and a heavy defeat could await.

We'll have to wait and see how these players get on and deal with the situation, but on the face of things they both arrive under different circumstances and against different challenges.

Welshman Pagett is most famously known as friend and practice partner of two-time champion Mark Williams.

He sealed his slot with an impressive 10-6 win against Andrew Higginson and now faces Jamie Cope at the venue, who desperately needs a run in Sheffield to preserve his top 16 status.

Pagett said: “I’m a little bit disappointed if I’m being honest.

“Getting to the World Championship for the first time, I would have loved to have been drawn against one of the big names."

But on the other side of the coin, Cope is a top player who is rocking right now. He's not playing his best snooker, and this has the hallmarks of a potential upset, as the confidence of Pagett meets the doubtful Cope.

Robertson's story is perhaps a little more touching.

He beat Ken Doherty 10-6 in his final qualifying round and victory marks a dramatic revival for this promising amateur. Suffering from a rare condition called dystonia, which causes spontaneous muscle spasms, Robertson's career regressed as he began to shake on shots. This condition did eventually improve, and now he faces Mark Selby at the Crucible, who has picked up more ranking points than any other professional so far this season.

The Jester is such a stern match player, that Robertson could hardly have asked for a tougher draw. Victory does seem improbable, and in truth he'll be hoping to just make a good account of himself, but you never know.

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