Stephen Hendry will not be suffering from any shortage of motivation when he launches his challenge for a record fourth Welsh Open title at the Newport Centre tonight.
The Scot takes on Barry Hawkins in the second round determined to end 13 months without a title and improve his chances of reclaiming world number one status for the first time since 1998.
Hendry has not had cause to open his bulging trophy cabinet since last season’s Malta Cup but has nevertheless climbed to the head of the provisional rankings by reaching at least the quarter-finals of the eight most recent counting tournaments.
Now the 37-year-old is in pole position to become only the fourth player, after Ray Reardon, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan, to regain the coveted official number one spot when the rankings receive their yearly revision following the World Championship, which concludes on May 1.
“It’s amazing really. I’ve got into this situation without playing all that well so if I manage to strike a bit of form, expect big things,” said Hendry.
“I’ve been doing good things in practice, I’m feeling really confident and now it’s just a matter of turning those positives into titles.”
Hendry is also acutely aware that a series of impressive displays at the Welsh Open will be timely, with only the China Open in Beijing to come before attention turns to the Crucible in mid-April.
“Of course this is a great time of the season to start firing, with Sheffield looming up, but there’s a lot to play for before we go there,” added the seven-times world champion.
Although Hendry is undoubtedly upbeat, his wild day-to-day inconsistency continues to be a source of irritation.
At the Malta Cup four weeks ago, Hendry produced four century breaks en route to an outstanding 5-1 first-round victory over Australia’s Neil Robertson but, later in the week, struggled badly during his 5-2 quarter-final defeat by John Higgins.
“I was very disappointed with that and no matter how long you play the game you can’t work out why it happens. I’ve got no explanation. It’s my job to stop something like it happening again,” said Hendry.
“If I get to be world number one without winning a tournament this season that’s everyone else’s fault not mine. But, of course, I’d like to lift a trophy as well, that would be the ideal way to do it.”
Hawkins, though, is enjoying his best season in 12 years as a professional. He battled through to the semi-finals of the Grand Prix in October and gained extra confidence from the gutsy way he survived round one last night.
The left-hander from Sydenham was heading for defeat when he trailed David Roe 49-0 in the decider but shortly after benefiting from an outrageously fluked red he snatched the verdict on the pink with a 61 clearance.
Two of snooker’s leading prospects were in action yesterday but while China’s Liang Wenbo stormed through, Judd Trump’s debut in a world ranking event proper did not go well.
Liang, winner of the World Under-21 Championship in Bahrain last summer, outscored vastly experienced veteran Nigel Bond 348-69 during a 5-0 whitewash every inch as comprehensive as the score suggests.
The 18-year-old left-hander fired in breaks of 64, 49 and 73 twice before thanking his fellow countryman, China Open and UK champion Ding Junhui for providing inspiration.
“I’d love to follow in Ding’s footsteps. He’s shown all of us Chinese players what is possible,” said Liang, who now tackles Scotland’s Graeme Dott.
While Liang clearly felt right at home, Trump, a 16-year-old prodigy from Bristol who negotiated three qualifying rounds to secure his appearance, struggled.
Trump, who two years ago aged 14 seized one of Ronnie O’Sullivan records by becoming the youngest player to compile a 147 in competition, made a high break of only 36 in losing 5-3 to Gloucester’s Rob Milkins.
The biggest shock of day one of the £225,000 (€330,000) event was the 5-3 victory of Mark Selby, from 3-0 down, over provisional world number 10 Robertson.