Ken Doherty returned to vintage form and struck a blow for snooker’s senior citizens as he enjoyed a first Crucible win in eight years on Sunday.
The Irish crowd favourite fought back from 5-3 behind to win 10-5 against Stuart Bingham in the first round of the Dafabet World Championship, punching the air in delight as he crossed the finishing line.
As snooker supremo Barry Hearn considers handing tour wild cards to veterans Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White, it was left to 44-year-old Doherty to show it should be a long time before he needs such an exemption.
Doherty, the 1997 world champion, had not won a match at the Crucible since 2006, when he reached the quarter-finals.
In three of the last five years he failed to qualify, spending the tournament on punditry duty.
But after beating last year’s clown prince of the Crucible, Dechawat Poomjaeng, to earn his place in the draw this time, Doherty’s delight was made clear when he kissed the carpet on entering the arena for the start of his clash with Bingham.
The oldest man in the draw this year – for the first time in his career - Doherty came to Sheffield with modest expectations, and when he fell 3-0 behind in Saturday’s opening session he looked to be in trouble.
Yet he stayed in touch with Bingham overnight at 5-4 adrift, and turned on the style when they resumed by making breaks of 55, two runs of 60 and 57 to see off the blunted challenge of an out-of-sorts opponent.
Doherty said of his win: ``It was magnificent, just fantastic. I was starting to get really emotional. When I went 9-5 up I started to feel the nerves a little bit but I was loving every minute.
“I came here with no great expectation. I knew I could surprise a few people but I knew I would be up against it.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to beat Stuart and get through to the next round.
“I don’t know how many more times I’m going to be here again. I have to savour every moment.
“There’s a lot to do yet though. I’m here to enjoy myself but I’m not here to make up the numbers.
“I’ve had a lot of special memories out there and they came flooding back.”
Bingham, who lost the last seven frames of the match, was baffled by that capitulation.
He said: “I was shocking to be fair. I couldn’t seem to get in the match. Ken did a number on me. He’s a good player and he just stopped me really.
“I can’t put my finger on it but I’ll be back stronger.
“He’ll have to improve maybe 20 per cent to have any chance of going further. But he’s ’Crafty Ken’ for a reason. He can see your weaknesses and exploit them.”