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FEATURED: Snooker Debutants at the Crucible

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This is fairly nerdy in snooker, I know. But this is about the Crucible.

There is nothing that makes a World Championship exciting than a shock caused by a debutant. To the outside world of snooker, it is maddening to see someone who has won three Triple Crown events lose to someone who never reached the Crucible before. Well, this is exactly what happened when Michael Wasley won the decider against Ding Junhui in 2014.

Right now, Li Hang is the highest-ranked player who hasn’t reached the Crucible yet. Michael Georgiou is looking to be the first Cypriot snooker player to participate at the World Championship while Hossein Vafaei want to be the first Iranian to qualify there. He lost the final qualifying round in the last two occasions now, so will this be third time lucky?

But this isn’t what this article is about. How influential are these debutants? Have their even made a second appearance? Has their Crucible record improved since their first bow? Thankfully there has been at least one newbie at the Crucible every year for the past ten years. Even in 2007, there were two debutants in the guise of David Gilbert and Judd Trump. For Trump at least, he went on to make one quarter-final, two semi-finals and famously reached the 2011 final of the World Snooker Championship, becoming the youngest player since 1990 to reach the final!

So let’s see what happened to those players!

2008

Jamie Cope: Lost in the first round to Peter Ebdon 10-9 and went on to make three successive appearances. He reached the second round twice, once seeded No. 14 in the world in 2011. His fifth and latest appearance was in 2014, losing to Shaun Murphy 10-9. Cope has since dropped off the tour.

Liu Chuang: Lost 10-5 to Ronnie O’Sullivan, who went on to win the World Championship. He made his second appearance came four years later in 2012, where he was beaten 10-6 by Mark Williams. He dropped off the tour during the 2013/2014 season.

Liang Wenbo: Had to win four qualifying matches to reach the Crucible for the first time in 2008. Liang was victorious against former World Champion Ken Doherty in the first round (10-5) and controversially won the decider against Joe Swail in the next round. He lost in the quarter-finals to Ronnie O’Sullivan (13-5), who of course went on to win the World Championship. Despite making five further appearances at the Crucible, he only reached the second round once. This was in 2017, where he beat Stuart Carrington 10-7 as a No.13 seed and lost to compatriot Ding Junhui 13-12.

2009

Rory McLeod: Became the first ever black player to participate at the Crucible. After losing 10-6 to Mark King in 2009, he qualified for the World Championships twice in 2011 and 2017. He reached the second round on both occasions, beating Ricky Walden (10-6) and Judd Trump (10-8) respectively. His victory over Judd Trump was a particular highlight, as McLeod was 4-0 down against Trump, who was then No. 2 in the world.

Martin Gould: Gould reached the World Championship eight times since his made his debut in 2009. He reached the second round twice in 2010 and 2011. Despite leading 6-0 and 11-5 against Neil Robertson, he lost 13-12 in 2010 and was convincingly defeated by Judd Trump 13-6 in 2011. The ‘Pinner Potter’ was a seeded player in 2012 and 2016, he lost in the first round to David Gilbert and Ding Junhui respectively.

Andrew Higginson: Made his debut in 2009, losing to Shaun Murphy 10-8. He went on to made two more Crucible appearances, reaching the second round in 2012 by beating Stephen Lee 10-6. Unfortunately, he lost to fellow qualifier Jamie Jones 13-10.

Ricky Walden: Appeared seven times at the Crucible, starting from his debut in 2009 when he lost to Mark Selby 10-6 and two years later cemented his place in the Top 16, reaching the second round several times. His greatest run came in 2013, where the No. 14 seed defeated Michael Holt, Robert Milkins and Michael White to reach the semi-finals of the World Championship. Despite leading, he lost the semi-final to Barry Hawkins 17-14. Currently outside the Top 16, he beat top seed Luca Brecel in 2018, before losing to Judd Trump 13-9 in the second round.

2010

Tom Ford: Made three World Championship appearances in total and has never reached the second round. In 2010, 2014 and 2017, he lost to Mark Allen (10-4), Judd Trump (10-8) and Barry Hawkins (10-3) respectively.

Zhang Anda: Despite never reaching the Top 64, Zhang Anda managed to reach the Crucible three times. Mighty Mouse’s first appearance was in 2010, where he had to win four qualifying rounds. He battled hard against the King of the Crucible Stephen Hendry, but lost 10-9. He never made it further into the tournament, losing to Joe Perry and most recently, Barry Hawkins in 2016.

2011

Jimmy Robertson: Despite being trashed 10-1 by Mark Selby, he is recently becoming a permanent fixture in the Snooker World Champion, qualifying three times between 2015-2018. Jimmy lost all three first-round ties, most recently being in 2018, where he lost to eventual champion Mark Williams 10-5.

Andrew Pagett: Pagett had to win four qualifying rounds to make his Crucible debut, where he succumbed to a loss to Jamie Cope 10-7. This was his only Crucible appearance. He was relegated from the tour at the end of the 2014/2015 season.

2012

Jamie Jones: Reached the quarter-finals in his first appearance, beating Shaun Murphy (10-8) and Andrew Higginson (13-10). The Welshman impressed on his debut, despite losing to eventual finalist Ali Carter 13-11. He made two more appearances. He lost to Neil Robertson 10-2 in 2015 and in 2018, he defeated Shaun Murphy again 10-9 and then lost to Kyren Wilson 13-5. Jamie Jones is currently serving a short-term suspension for failing to report a corrupt approach.

Cao Yupeng: Qualified by winning four matches prior to the Crucible to cause a major upset by winning against Mark Allen 10-6. This included a controversial remark by Mark Allen that led to him being fined by the WPBSA. Cao never made another appearance again and he was recently banned for two and a half years for betting and match-fixing offences.

Luca Brecel: Qualified by winning four matches, beating Michael Holt and Mark King in the process. He became not only the first Belgian to qualify for the Crucible, but became the youngest player ever to compete at the Crucible, at the age of 17 years and 45 days. The Belgian Bullet lost 10-5 against Stephen Maguire, who lavished praise on his opponent and hoped he would be given a wildcard to stay on tour. He qualified again in 2017, where he surrendered a 7-2 lead to lose 10-9 against Marco Fu. Brecel qualified as a seeded player for the first time in 2018, but lost to Ricky Walden 10-6.

2013

Jack Lisowski: Touted as a hot prospect, he lost to Barry Hawkins 10-3. He made his second appearance in 2018, where he beat former World Champion Stuart Bingham 10-7. ‘Jackpot’ avoided a whitewash in the second round, where he lost 13-1 to eventual finalist John Higgins.

Michael White: Michael White made an immediate impact in the event, beating Mark Williams (10-6) and Dechawat Poomjaeng (13-3) to reach the quarter-finals. ‘Lightning’ lost to Ricky Walden 13-6. He immediately qualified the next year and lost to eventual champion Mark Selby 10-9, despite being 4-1 behind. He became the No. 15 seed in 2016, but lost 10-7 to qualifier Sam Baird. In a match interview, he spoke about his struggles with depression.

Ben Woollaston: Ben made his first and only appearance to date in 2013, where he was knocked out by Ali Carter 10-4.

Dechawat Poomjaeng: Dechawat became the third player from Thailand to participate in the Crucible. He caused one of the greatest Crucible shocks in the modern era, defeating former Crucible semi-finalist Stephen Maguire 10-9. Mr. Poombastic’s antics and facial expressions quickly made him a fan favourite. He was trashed 13-3 by Michael White, while famously losing a frame via the three-miss rule. I’ll be looking forward to it when he next qualifies to the Crucible!

Matthew Selt: After losing 10-4 to Mark Selby, he made his second appearance in 2015 against Barry Hawkins. Despite fighting back from 7-2 behind, he lost the decider.

Sam Baird: Sam had to win four qualifying matches to play at the Crucible, beating Joe Perry 10-3 in the final round. He lost 10-2 to Stuart Bingham. The ‘Blade’ was victorious in the first round in 2016, defeating Michael White. Mark Selby withstood a fightback from Baird from 11-7 to 11-11, but became victorious at 13-11.

2014

Xiao Guodong: Xiao was touted as a dark horse, having reached the final of the Shanghai Masters in the same season. He ended up losing to Ali Carter 10-8. He qualified for the Crucible in the last two years. In 2017, he won against Ryan Day 10-4 before losing to eventual champion Mark Selby 13-6. Last year, he got knocked out by Ding Junhui 10-3 in the first round.

Robbie Williams: Williams made three successive appearances in the World Championship between 2014-2016. He lost in the first round each time, losing to Neil Robertson (10-2), eventual 2015 champion Stuart Bingham (10-7) and Ricky Walden (10-8).

Michael Wasley: Wasley qualified by winning four matches, where he beat Robert Milkins on the final black in the decider to reach the Crucible. He moved to the second round by defeating Ding Junhui 10–9 in a win that was described as “one of the biggest shocks in Crucible history”. Wasley was then thrashed by Dominic Dale 13-3. He is no longer a professional snooker player, having dropped out in 2016.

Kyren Wilson: Kyren impressed in his final qualifying round by beating Graeme Dott 10-8. However, he lost to Ricky Walden in the main arena. Despite failing to qualify in 2015, he’s been ever present since 2016. The ‘Warrior’ reached the quarter-finals twice and in the most recent World Championship, beat Matthew Stevens, Jamie Jones and Mark Allen to reach his first Crucible semi-final. Though he lost 17-13 to John Higgins, many people later regard him to be a future World Champion.

2015

Craig Steadman: Steadman beat the likes of Michael White and Jamie Burnett to qualify for the first time. Unfortunately, Ronnie O’Sullivan stood in his way, losing 10-3. He hasn’t made an appearance since.

Kurt Maflin: Became the first Norwegian to qualify for the Crucible. He went up against Mark Selby, who narrowly escaped a first-round exit, recovering from 8–9 down against Maflin to clinch a 10–9 win.

Stuart Carrington: Before qualifying for the Crucible, Carrington played at the Crucible before, in Junior Pot Black in 2006. He has made three appearances in the past four years. Though he lost every first-round tie, he became part of an exclusive club in 2017, became only the fifth snooker player, after John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson to make century breaks in 3 consecutive frames in a World Championship match.

Anthony McGill: McGill made his debut in 2015 and defeated Stephen Maguire 10-9 in the first round. The ‘Smiling Assassin’ also played fantastic snooker to defeat champion Mark Selby 13-9, thus keeping the ‘Crucible Curse’ alive, before losing to Shaun Murphy 13-8. He has made an appearance at the Crucible every year since 2015. McGill reached the second round in 2016, knocked out of the first round in 2017 and was thrashed by Ding Junhui 13-4 in the second round last year.

2016

Mitchell Mann: The sole debutant of the 2016 World Championship, he beat Kishan Hirani, Matt Selt and Dechawat Poomjaeng to reach the Crucible. He lost 10-3 to Mark Allen. He hasn’t made an appearance since and has dropped off the tour in 2018.

2017

David Grace: He lost in the first round on his debut against Kyren Wilson 10-6. ‘Amazing’ Grace hasn’t made an appearance since and has dropped off the tour in 2018.

Noppon Saengkham: He became the fourth Thai to reach the Crucible. However, Neil Robertson made his 500th career century during his 10–4 first round win against Noppon. Noppon has yet to make it to the Crucible the second time.

Gary Wilson: Gary Wilson lost to Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-7 on his debut, despite making eight centuries in the qualifying rounds, including a 147.

Yan Bingtao: Hot prospect Yan Bingtao was very close to causing an upset against Shaun Murphy and was behind 9-8. However, he was incredibly unlucky as Shaun Murphy fluked the red to clear the table to the final black to win 10-8.

Zhou Yuelong: Beat Ben Wollaston 10-9 in the final qualifying round. Lost to compatriot Ding Junhui 10-5 on his debut.

2018

Liam Highfield: Lost to Mark Allen 10-5 in the first round, despite making two breaks of 99.

Lyu Haotian: Despite being the lowest-ranked and youngest player of the 2018 draw, he comprehensively defeated Marco Fu 10-5, who made an appearance following eye surgery. He faced Barry Hawkins in the second round, losing 13-10, when they were at all square at 10-10;

Chris Wakelin: Wakelin was on the verge of causing a dramatic upset, considering he never defeated Judd Trump in six occasions. Despite being 8-4 behind, he won four successive frames and took the match to a decider. Both players felt the pressure but Trump managed to put Wakelin aside on the final colours.

Thepchaiya Un-Nooh: Became the fifth Thai snooker player to play at the Crucible. Despite impressing, he lost to eventual finalist John Higgins 10-7.

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