Chris Wakelin vowed to deliver the goods on his Crucible debut after the former supermarket van driver earned a place at the World Championship.
The 26-year-old trounced China’s Tian Pengfei 10-1 in qualifying and could face one of snooker’s biggest names on the sport’s most famous stage this weekend.
But Wakelin has not found life easy in the professional ranks, which he joined in 2012, and it took a helping hand from colleagues at Asda’s store in Rugby to keep his fledgling career afloat.
After guaranteeing himself a minimum of £18,000 for reaching round one, Wakelin said: “It’s going to be amazing to play there for the first time.
“Four years ago I was still driving a van around Warwickshire. I loved that job and had amazing people around me. Asda themselves actually gave me time off to practise and to play in tournaments.
“They had a fundraiser for me and it raised nearly £1,000 towards my tour expenses. I can’t thank them enough. Hopefully now when I go out at the Crucible I can do them all proud and put on a good performance.”
The toughest part of the van-driving job was navigating Warwickshire’s hills in the snow, often getting stuck. The Crucible seemed a world away, and depression also struck Wakelin at a young age.
“I’ve had bad times and I stopped playing for a while and thought I’d never pick a cue up again,” Wakelin said. “But I’ve had amazing people around me the last five years and the few months before I got on tour everyone drummed together and pulled me out of a hole. I’m eternally grateful.”
Former World Championship winner Ken Doherty missed out on a Crucible return when the 48-year-old lost to Matthew Stevens in their final qualifying round clash.
The 1997 champion crashed 10-2 to Welshman Stevens at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
Doherty is playing on a tour wild card that runs through to the end of next season, when he may consider retirement.
He said: “I’ll come back and try again next year and then see what happens.”
The draw takes place on Thursday morning, and will feature 2006 world champion Graeme Dott who survived qualifying for a fourth successive year, winning 10-7 against Mike Dunn.
The Scot wants to avoid in-form Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round.
Dott said: “You’ve got to be brutally honest and I don’t think anybody wants to play Ronnie because he’s playing awesome.”
Joe Perry, Ricky Walden, Robert Milkins and Stuart Carrington joined the players heading to the main draw, along with Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-nooh, celebrating his 33rd birthday.
Chinese 20-year-old Lyu Haotian earned a debut, beating Rory McLeod 10-2, while compatriot Xiao Guodong also advanced.
They were joined by England’s Jack Lisowski, Jimmy Robertson and Liam Highfield, the latter securing a debut by beating Wales’ Daniel Wells 10-4. Welsh potters Jamie Jones and Ryan Day made it through, ousting Liang Wenbo and 2002 world champion Peter Ebdon respectively.
Scotland’s Stephen Maguire overcame Iranian Hossein Vafaei 10-7 in a bruising battle, and admitted he was exhausted.
“I’m going out to get drunk,” Maguire said, relieved to earn a 15th consecutive appearance at the World Championship. “I’m going to have a beer and then it’ll be forgotten about.”