‘Judgement Day’: Big break beckons for Ashley Hugill with Crucible the target
For the 27-year-old – an adopted Sheffielder after swapping his hometown of York for the Steel City over three years ago – is just one match away from earning a prized Crucible spot.
Ten gruelling days of qualifying will climax today and tomorrow at Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport, when just 16 players will emerge to join the world’s top 16 when the Crucible cues off this weekend.
For Hugill – who plays Joe O’Connor today – this is the closest he has come to qualifying for the Crucible, and the world No 77 is not short of confidence.
“I feel quite calm about it,” Hugill told The Yorkshire Post. “For me, I know I will definitely get to play at the Crucible at some point in my career.
“I feel that is not in doubt. The World Championship format suits my style. I like to play those big matches.
“I need to win a couple of matches to get in the top 64, so that’s my target now. That was my goal at the start of the season, and it’s still the target. I have won quite a few matches this season.”
Hugill trains at the successful Victoria’s Academy in Sheffield, which is home to rising stars like Zhao Xintong – who won the UK Championship in York this season – European Masters winner Fan Zhengyi and last year’s Masters champion Yan Bingtao.
“I train at Victoria’s Academy and live near Hillsborough. It’s the perfect set-up,” he said.
“York is always my home, but Sheffield is my home too now. I feel like I have two homes.
“I have been at Victoria’s for three years. The players there, you can’t help but learn off them.
“It’s not just the calibre of players there, but also the people there are so nice. Everyone wants to help everyone, and it’s such a good atmosphere, there’s a real feel-good factor inside. It’s like a little family.”
Hugill had to battle back from 5-2 down to beat world No 20 Martin Gould 6-5 in his third-round qualifier on Sunday.
And he revealed a bout of food poisoning was not the ideal preparation.
“I have never felt so bad going into a match,” he admitted. “I was actually physically sick a couple of times the night before we played.
“I had a bit of food poisoning, felt quite bloated and had stomach ache at the start of the match. I didn’t really expect much because I felt so bad. If anything, I felt it took the pressure off me a bit because it was such a big match for me.
“My stomach is feeling a little bit better today (Monday), I haven’t eaten anything yet. Hopefully I will be okay.
“(At 5-2 down) I played two perfect frames to go 5-4, he didn’t have a chance, and then I fancied the job. I thought he is going to be edgier than me.
“I didn’t score as I know I can, during the match, but it was nice to knock in a couple of (50-plus) breaks in the decider,” said Hugill, who thrashed Dean Young 6-0 in his opening qualifying match.
Ding Junhui – the 14-time ranking event winner who has also adopted Sheffield as his home city – is in the qualifying rounds after sliding down to 29th in the world rankings.
Ding will play David Lilley at the EIS today, although this is not the first time the former UK champion has joined the qualifiers. Back in 2016, Ding emerged from the qualifying rounds and went all the way to the Crucible final, only to lose out to Mark Selby.
“I am not playing that well, but my safety is okay,” said Ding, who beat Tian Pengfei 6-4 in Sunday’s third-round qualifier.
Last night, Leeds’s David Grace beat China’s Xiao Guodong 6-4 and will face Jackson Page in tomorrow’s final qualifying round.