Luca Brecel today served up compelling evidence of his rich talent as he became the youngest ever Crucible debutant.
The Belgian is destined to win many matches in the Betfred.com World Championship, but at 6-3 behind against Stephen Maguire following their first session he was clinging to faint hope of becoming the first 17-year-old to taste victory at the Sheffield theatre.
The outcome could have been a lot worse for the teenager though, as he trailed 4-0 and then 6-1, with Maguire pouncing on a series of unforced errors to take charge of the match.
Brecel showed audacity verging on folly at times, not least when he lost position on an intended red in frame seven and attempted a difficult plant, sending the ball he was looking to pot leaping off the table.
But once Brecel had the wild play out of his system, he found impressive fluency. Breaks of 96, 63, 116 and 62 showed just why the young man from Dilsen-Stokkem has been tipped by Ronnie O’Sullivan as a multiple world champion of the future.
At 17 years and 45 days, Brecel beat one of Stephen Hendry’s many records, Hendry having been 17 and three months when he first appeared at the Crucible in 1986.
Since Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and Liu Chuang have all qualified as 17-year-olds, and all have lost their opening matches.
More of the break-building and less of the reckless abandon when they resume tomorrow could make for a close finish, but Brecel cannot afford to start again in the manner he did today.
It was a big day out for Belgium, with Olivier Marteel appointed to referee his young countryman’s history-making appearance.
Brecel did not trouble the scorers in the opening frame, and in the second he led 55-1 before missing chances to put the frame away. Maguire picked him off, moving closer to Brecel before firing in a break of 46, taking the frame on the black.
If world number seven Maguire had any pre-match nerves, that would have soothed them.
Brecel gave away six fouls in frame three after being put in a difficult snooker behind the yellow on the top cushion, and a 54 break from Maguire made it 3-0.
Bad luck was to blame for Brecel falling further behind, when a missed yellow from the youngster turned into an even worse shot when the loose-running ball clipped in the blue. Worse still, Maguire had a free ball and the frame was soon his.
It was becoming a rout, but Maguire’s run was interrupted as Brecel made a mesmerising break of 96 in the next frame.
As comfortable playing left-handed, seemingly, as with his natural right-handed stance, he switched when required and midway through the break fired in a stunning long red to keep the run going.
With a first Crucible century just two pots away, he smashed a red almost off the table and the break was over.
Brecel was well on the way to a hundred in the next frame but broke down on 63 when he over-cut a tight black. Maguire replied with 37 before Brecel missed and left him the yellow, and the Scot cleared the colours to take the frame by one point.
Another went Maguire’s way before Brecel finished the session in grand style, first with his maiden century and then with a cool 62.
If the mission was to achieve respectability, Brecel at least managed that.
On the other table this morning, Tamworth’s David Gilbert won his first World Championship match at the age of 30, beating London’s Martin Gould 10-8 to set up a second round clash with Neil Robertson or Ken Doherty, who were due back this afternoon to complete their match.
Gould trailed Gilbert 9-5 but made back-to-back breaks of 136 and 109 to spur a fightback.
“It’s a massive relief to get through,” said Gilbert.
“To have got over the line is great.
“Hopefully a few of the Tamworth massive might come up and cheer for me in the next round. Everybody will be asking for tickets and I’ll see how many I can get.”