Ken Doherty drew on the memories of his greatest Crucible triumphs as he struck a blow for snooker’s ‘senior citizens’ yesterday.
The Irish crowd favourite battled from 5-3 behind to win 10-5 against Stuart Bingham in the first round of the Dafabet World Championship, punching the air in delight as he crossed the finishing line.
As World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn considers handing tour wild cards to veterans Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White, it fell to 44-year-old Doherty to show it should be a long time before he needs any such exemption.
“I’m here to enjoy myself, but I’m not here to make up the numbers,” said Doherty.
“I’ve had a lot of special memories out there and they come flooding back when you’re out there in the heat of the battle.
“Sometimes they can inspire you, so I’m trying to draw on all that great experience and just try to stay in the moment and be as calm as possible.”
The 1997 world champion and twice runner-up had not won a match at the Crucible since 2006, when he reached the quarter-finals. In three of the last five years he failed to qualify, spending the tournaments on BBC punditry duty.
But after beating last year’s ‘clown prince’ of the Crucible, Dechawat Poomjaeng, to earn his place in the draw this time, Doherty’s delight was apparent from the moment he kissed the carpet on entering the famous Sheffield arena at the start of his clash with Bingham.
The oldest man in the draw this year – for the first time in his career – Doherty came to Sheffield with modest expectations and, when he fell 3-0 behind in Saturday’s opening session, he looked in trouble.
Yet he had stayed in touch with Bingham overnight at 5-4 adrift and turned on the style when they resumed by making breaks of 55, two runs of 60 and 57 to see off the blunted challenge of an out-of-sorts opponent.
“It was magnificent, just fantastic. I was starting to get really emotional,” Doherty said.
“I don’t know how many more times I’m going to be here again. I have to savour every moment.”
Elsewhere, twicee runner-up Ali Carter struggled past qualifier Xiao Guodong, the Chinese debutant who, at 8-8 was threatening to cause a first-round shock.
Carter rifled in an 80 break to go one frame away, and seized on an error from Xiao to take the upper hand in the next on the way to clinching a 10-8 victory.