The Leeds potter has struggled for wins this campaign, and needed to beat Iulian Boiko in his opening qualifying match at Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport simply to keep his spot on the snooker’s main Tour. The 36-year-old then followed that up with Monday’s 6-4 win over China’s Xiao Guodong – who had battled back from 4-1 down to level at 4-4 – with breaks of 88, 55, 65, 66 and 80.
Today he plays Jackson Page in the final qualifying round, Judgement Day, with the winner clinching a prized spot at the Crucible, which cues off on Saturday.
“It’s been a tough season,” admitted world No 58 Grace. “I’m not making any excuses, there’s no reason why I haven’t done as well this year.
“I don’t actually feel like I have played that badly this season, but just come out on the wrong side of a lot of deciders, losing by the odd frame. Those were going my way last season. That’s snooker. I felt like it owed me, so if this (tournament) is the one, it would be a nice way to finish (the season).
“I have only ever been here (Judgement Day) once, so I am not massively experienced. But it’s just tense.
“To be honest, the first match I played in the qualifiers was for my Tour card so that was the most pressure I could feel.
“If I had lost my first qualifying match I would have got zero points, been off the Tour and going to Q School. That first win was enormous, keeps me in the 64.”
Grace previously played at the Crucible in 2017, falling at the first hurdle, 10-6 to Kyren Wilson.
“The Crucible is the best place on earth to play snooker,” said Grace, a UK Championship semi-finalist in 2016. “It doesn’t seem like two minutes ago since I played there, and it’s five years.”
While today will be Grace’s biggest pay day of the season – “It’s nearly as much as I won when I got to the Crucible. I got £16k then, and I am on £15k now” – he was back cleaning tables yesterday at Leeds’s Northern Snooker Centre, just hours after beating Xiao Guodong.
“I was back in doing the tables this morning at the club,” said Grace. “I didn’t get home until 2am, then was up doing the tables. I brush the tables every morning, keep them upto scratch, and that’s a big part of why the club is so successful.
“They might treat me to a couple of days off if I reach the Crucible,” he joked.
But on a more serious note, added: “There have been times when I have been doing well, and thought maybe I wouldn’t need to do it, but there’s also times – like this season – when you go months without winning a match, without winning a penny, and you are really grateful for the wage you get every month.”