Defending champion Stuart Bingham suffered a shock first-round exit on the opening day of the Betfred World Championship.
Bingham suffered as the famous Crucible curse hit again, losing 10-9 to Ali Carter. No first time winner has even returned to defend his title, and that record goes on.
The 39-year-old from Basildon knew fellow Essex potter Carter was as tough a first-round foe as he could have drawn, given the Chelmsford man’s credentials as a two-time former runner-up.
Bingham trailed by 5-4 after the morning session, but arguably had the psychological advantage having at one stage been 5-1 adrift. He brought the match swiftly level in the evening, and that briefly looked ominous, but then Carter swiped three frames in succession.
Sixteen first-time world champions have tried and failed to retain the title when returning to Sheffield 12 months on from their maiden triumphs.
And talk of a curse on the new champion is unavoidable, with Bingham having faced questions on the matter ever since he defeated Shaun Murphy 12 months ago to take the title. Whether a statistical anomaly or more meaningful, it would have been firmly in his thoughts.
In 1982, Steve Davis was crushed 10-1 by Tony Knowles in the first round - the worst loss suffered by an incumbent champion - and when Bingham saw frames slipping away rapidly to Carter he knew he was in trouble.
Two-time former runner-up Carter said he would be “fresh as a daisy” for the tournament, despite having to contest three best-of-19-frame qualifying matches, the latest on Wednesday when he saw off Dominic Dale.
Coupled with Bingham’s warning that he would need half a session to calm himself down on his return to the scene of his greatest triumph, it was almost no surprise that Carter built his early lead.
Carter’s refusal to buckle in the evening then meant he was well on top as the players went to the evening mid-session interval.
Back-to-back frames from Bingham under the most severe pressure slashed Carter’s lead to just one. The second of those came when Carter missed a critical brown from the last red, allowing Bingham to pounce for the colours.
And 68 from Bingham in the next brought the match level again, this time at 8-8.
The pair traded frames to leave the match hanging on the final frame. Carter edged ahead, Bingham needed snookers, but try as he might, the defending champion could not claw back the deficit.
World champion in 2002, Peter Ebdon also fell at the first-round stage for the 12th time in his 23 career appearances in Sheffield as former semi-finalist Marco Fu secured an impressive 10-2 victory.
Hong Kong cueman Fu built a handsome 6-2 first-session lead thanks to breaks of 81, 111, 138, 84 and 50, and a pair of 71 breaks in the evening saw him complete the job.
“I didn’t really expect to win 10-2 against Peter,” Fu said.
“I’m playing much better this year than in previous years. I think there are at least 12 players who can win this tournament and I believe I’m one of them.”