Ding Junhui easily negotiated the final qualifying round of the Betfred World Championship, beating Nigel Bond 10-2.
China’s Ding was forced to qualify after dropping to 17 in the world rankings earlier this month, but won his three matches at Ponds Forge for the loss of just seven frames to secure a place at the nearly Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
Ding, who beat Greg Casey 10-4, Ross Muir 10-1 and then Bond, goes into the draw to take place at 10am tomorrow morning and is surely the one player who any of the top 16 would want to avoid. The 29-year-old has never been past the semi-finals at the Crucible but will go there full of confidence this time.
Ding, who has won 11 ranking titles, fired breaks of 91, 137, 65, 98, 53 and 140 in a fine display against Bond.
“It wasn’t easy, there was pressure at the start of the qualifiers because I just wanted to get to the Crucible,” said Ding. “I feel good now having won three matches. I am scoring heavily. This has been good preparation for me and I’m ready for the first round now.”
Mitchell Mann will make his Crucible debut this year thanks to a 10-9 victory over Dechawat Poomjaeng. Mann won the decider with a superb break of 79 having been hauled back from 9-7 to 9-9.
World number 74 Mann is in his second year on tour and is now guaranteed his biggest pay-day so far as last-32 losers will receive £13,250.
“I have been working on the mental side with my manager John Farnworth and that really helped me keep my composure today,” said 24-year-old Mann. “I’m buzzing inside and can’t wait to get to the Crucible. I won Junior Pot Black there in 2007 so I’ve got a 100 per cent record!
“The money means a lot to me because I’ve got a two year old daughter so I can support my family. My dad has put every last penny into my career, I think he’s remortgaged his house five times so I’m glad I can pay him back a bit. He will be so proud so see me play in Sheffield. I’ll just go there and enjoy it.”
Mann was a promising junior footballer until, at the age of eight, he was diagnosed with Perthes, a rare disease which damages the hip bones. “Since then I have a lot of operations on my hips,” he said. “I was told I couldn’t play high impact sport any more and that’s what got me into snooker.”
Alan McManus secured his 20th appearance at the Crucible with a 10-2 thrashing of Jimmy Robertson, his top break 85.
“If someone had told me in 1991 when I made my debut that I’d be coming back to the Crucible 25 years later I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Glasgow’s 45-year old McManus. “It was great to get over the line today without too much stress because I was expecting a really tough match against Jimmy.
“After 20 times at the Crucible it’s still a buzz although it doesn’t mean as much as it used to. I would love to draw John Higgins or Stephen Maguire just because they are my mates. I’ll turn up and give it a go.”
Anthony McGill, who reached the quarter-finals on his Crucible debut last year, secured a return with a 10-7 defeat of Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. McGill saw a 6-3 overnight lead disappear as U-Nooh took the first three frames today, but McGill rallied to win four of the last five.
“The Crucible is the best place I have played snooker so it’s an honour to be going back,” said the Scot. “I haven’t had a great season but it’s not easy to go deep in any tournament. It was a tough draw against Un-Nooh because he pots balls from anywhere, so I was just trying to put balls safe and I’m pleased with how I managed the game.”
David Gilbert earned his place in the last 32 with a 10-7 defeat of Jack Lisowski. The key moment came in the 16th frame when Lisowski looked set to go 8-8 until he missed a red on 54. Gilbert made an excellent 73 clearance and secured victory in the next frame.
“The match was a really good standard,” said Gilbert, who was runner-up to John Higgins at the International Championship earlier this season. “A month ago my game was shot to pieces and I was ready to go back to driving a tractor for a living. But I’ve worked hard since then and feel happy with my form now.”
Robert Milkins secured his seventh Crucible appearance with a 10-7 win over Kurt Maflin. From 8-7, Milkins rattled off the last two frames with breaks of 81 and 106. “I finished the match off well,” said the Gloucester cueman. “I got nervous during the match, but my safety was very good and it had to be because Kurt scores so well. This is the best I have felt in a year and I still feel as if I have something to prove – I want to get to the later stages.”
Devon’s Sam Baird is through to the Crucible for the second time thanks to a 10-9 win over Liam Highfield. Baird let slip leads of 5-1 and 9-7 but eventually won with a break of 75 in the decider.
“I could’t get rid of him, every time I had a lead he came back,” said Baird. “We both played well and I was relieved to get over the line in the end. I won’t be intimidated by the venue this time, having been there before, and hopefully I will show what I can do this time.”
In the last match of the first session to finish, Robbie Williams edged out Anthony Hamilton 10-9 by potting brown, blue and pink in the deciding frame. Williams is through to the Crucible for the third consecutive year.
“On my debut I was battered by Neil Robertson, then last year I had a chance to beat Stuart Bingham but let the occasion get to me,” said the Wirral cueman. “Hopefully this time I can win a match. I’d be happy to play Stuart again and give him a rematch. I think I always try a bit harder in the World Championship and maybe that’s why I’ve got a good record.”