Stephen Maguire has passed one of the toughest tests of his career to nail down a place in the Embassy World Championship at the Crucible next month.
The Scot, winner of the UK Championship in November, arrived at Pontin’s holiday camp in Prestatyn saddled with a huge weight of expectation ahead of his tricky final qualifying round encounter with Welsh prospect Ryan Day.
But even though he admitted to being “really nervous,” 24-year-old Maguire produced a performance worthy of a player who stands third in the provisional world rankings.
Maguire narrowly led 5-4 after the opening session and two frames later Day remained on his coat-tails at 6-5.
Day enjoyed no further success, though, as Maguire clicked up a gear and with breaks of 54, 124, 43 and 66 in the closing four frames, secured his place in the draw for the first round proper, to be conducted on BBC Radio 5 Live on Monday night.
Maguire, who also fired in a 137 total clearance in frame four and has now compiled 21 centuries this season, remains on course to become only the fourth player to pull off the world and UK double in the same season.
He said: “I’m not even thinking about that. I’m just relieved to get through this because Ryan is one of the players you definitely don’t want to come up against at this stage.
“The pressure was unreal, especially at the start – I’ve been nervous all week because this is the biggest tournament of the calendar.”
It was also a successful day for Australian snooker as Neil Robertson and Quinten Hann both advanced to ensure two players from down under at the Crucible for the first time since Eddie Charlton and Warren King were in the field in 1991.
Hann, due to stand trial on four counts including two of sexual assault, beat Pakistan’s Shokat Ali 10-5 while Robertson earned his first trip to snooker’s most famous venue with a dramatic 10-9 victory over Mark King, twice a semi-finalist in ranking events this season.
Leading 7-2, Robertson – an eagle eyed left-handed potter from Melbourne – was cruising but King suddenly found his range and momentum shifted.
Having stolen the 13th frame on the black with a 65 clearance to reduce his arrears to 8-5, King roared back to 9-9.
However, with a late run of 32 in the decider he described as the best break of his career, Robertson gratefully stumbled over the line.
The first player through was speed merchant Tony Drago, who boosted the overseas contingent at Sheffield with a 10-4 victory over 1995 world finalist Nigel Bond.
Drago, who has slumped to 39th in the provisional world rankings this season, said: “I’ve had a bad season but that’s the best I’ve played so it’s good timing.”
The Maltese cueman will be returning to the Crucible for the 13th time while 21-year-old Leicester professional Mark Selby will make his debut there following a 10-2 win over Joe Perry.
Selby, denied at the last qualifying hurdle in each of the past three years, finally made the championship proper as Perry, a UK semi-finalist in November, lost for the sixth time in his seven most recent outings.