Paul Hunter showed again tonight that his fighting qualities are not limited to his ongoing battle against cancer despite a first-round defeat at the 888.com World Championship in Sheffield.
The Yorkshireman displayed real courage in battling back from 8-2 down against Australian rising star Neil Robertson to win three of the next four frames before eventually bowing out 10-5.
Considering his illness, which was diagnosed 12 months ago, it is understandable that Hunter has found it tough to compete this season and victory today was never likely in the circumstances.
But the 28-year-old was unlucky to be 7-2 down after the first session having played much better than the scoreline suggested, and his performance when the match resumed was extremely creditable.
“It’s been tough for me because I’ve not really enjoyed playing while I’ve been ill,” said the three-time former Masters champion.
“I’ve been in pain but I’ve just had to give it a go to try to keep my ranking up. Next year I will try to get back to where I should be.
“I didn’t think I would make it here yesterday because I was in a pretty bad way, but I sweated it out and battled through. It’s quite tough because I have pain in my side 24-7 now but I just have to get on with it.”
Now attention reverts to Hunter’s medical treatment, which resumes on Wednesday.
“I start on my third course of chemotherapy for another 16 weeks,” he explained.
“I’m worse off than I was last year. This treatment is to try to stop the cancer from growing and if it works then I will have more to try to shrink it.”
Robertson, who will play Stephen Lee in the second round, admitted it was “probably the most difficult match” he had ever had to play.
“There was no joy in it for obvious reasons,” said the 24-year-old from Melbourne.
“I’d been building myself up to try to block out the emotions but it’s extremely difficult and there were a lot of things running through my head.
“It’s not nice to see Paul struggling and I just wish him well and hope he can get through this.”
Earlier, Stephen Maguire made it third time lucky at the Crucible as he reached the second round with a 10-6 victory over Mark King.
The fourth seed was unlucky to be drawn against Ronnie O’Sullivan on his two previous visits to Sheffield and lost both times, although last year he pushed the ‘Rocket’ to a deciding frame.
This time, however, Maguire finally got over the initial hurdle to ensure he will end a disappointing campaign on a brighter note.
“All I’ve been thinking about for weeks has been this match,” said the 25-year-old Scot, who will meet Alan McManus or Marco Fu in the second round.
“I’m chuffed to bits because I love winning matches, whether it’s the World Championship or just in the local club.”
King’s chances disappeared when he missed the final black off its spot in frame 14, which meant he trailed 9-5 instead of 8-6, and the Essex player admitted that had been pivotal.
“I played well in patches but missed a couple of balls that cost me,” said the 32-year-old. “I didn’t disgrace myself though.”
Ken Doherty inflicted a Crucible debut nightmare on rising star Barry Hawkins when he cruised through 10-1.
Hawkins, ranked number 29 in the world, has made rapid strides over the last couple of years to secure a top-10 place for next season, but will want to quickly forget his first appearance on snooker’s biggest stage.
“I had two bad days at the office,” said the 26-year-old from Beckenham. “I just couldn’t perform and I can’t explain why. Ken had nobody to beat and I’m gutted after such a good season to have played like that.”
Doherty, the 1997 champion, is back to something like his best after a lean spell, and the Malta Cup winner was delighted with the way he had dealt with a potentially tricky opponent.
“It was the toughest draw on paper and a workmanlike performance but I’m very pleased,” said the 36-year-old Dubliner.
The top two Welsh players also put themselves on course for the second round, Mark Williams opening an 8-1 lead over Anthony Hamilton, while Matthew Stevens ended his first session against Joe Swail with a 6-3 advantage.