World Snooker Championship: Grace not overawed by debut at the Crucible

Leeds snooker player David Grace. PIC: Simon Cooper/PA Wire
Leeds snooker player David Grace. PIC: Simon Cooper/PA Wire
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Leeds potter David Grace is hoping his past exploits will stop him getting overawed by the Crucible experience in his first appearance at the World Championships next week.

Grace powered into the main draw of snooker’s showpiece for a first time after a 10-3 dismissal of Thailand’s Akani Songsermsawad in the final round of qualifying on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old will face 14th seed Kyren Wilson in the opening round with the first session taking place at 2.30pm on Saturday – with Ronnie O’Sullivan set to take on world No 59 Gary Wilson on the other table.

It is the first time Grace has qualified for the Championships and his appearance will take him to a new career ranking high of 42.

“I know it’s going to be special,” the current world No 51 said. “I will love every minute – just saying that I have played there. A lot of players go through their whole career without doing it.

“This year I have been practicing really hard for the worlds. The matches are so long and I have been playing best of 19 practice matches all day.

“I feel that’s stood me in good stead. I always feel that once I get through the first round, I can do anything.”

Grace has had a mixed 18 months on tour since his breakthrough at the 2015 UK Championships, where he reached the semi-finals in York.

That run to the last four in York saw him beat former world champion Peter Ebdon in the quarter-finals; the pair could meet in round two in Sheffield should Ebdon beat 2015 champion Stuart Bingham.

First, however, he will need to overcome Wilson, who sprang to prominence after beating Judd Trump in the 2015 Shanghai Masters final.

Wilson and Grace have never met on the professional circuit but the Leeds man recalls beating the 25-year-old during the pair’s junior days.

“I think I beat him a couple of times but he was probably about 13 at the time,” Grace added.

“We haven’t played a single pro’ match but he’s been on the radar in the qualifiers for a long time. He’s done fantastically well to get into the top 16.”

The nuances of the Crucible Theatre can be a daunting proposition for first-timers – with cramped conditions and the intensity of the crowd.

But Grace feels his big-tournament experience will help him overcome any nerves ahead of Saturday. He added: “Some people feel the atmosphere at the Crucible but I’d like to think that I have proven in previous experiences that I can cope with it. I’ve been to watch and you feel you can reach out and touch the players in the first two rows. It’s unusual from that perspective.

“But I’ve always dreamed about playing there one day.”

Elsewhere in the first-round draw, defending champion Mark Selby will meet Fergal O’Brien after the Irish qualifier played out the longest frame in snooker history to book his place in the draw.

O’Brien won a deciding frame against England’s David Gilbert in two hours, three minutes and 41 seconds, comfortably beating the previous record of one hour, 40 minutes and 24 seconds by Alan McManus and Barry Pinches.

First-round draw: Mark Selby v Fergal O’Brien, Ryan Day v Xiao Guodong, Neil Robertson v Noppon Saengkham, Marco Fu v Luca Brecel, Shaun Murphy v Yan Bingtao, Ronnie O’Sullivan v Gary Wilson, Liang Wenbo v Stuart Carrington, Ding Junhui v Zhou Yuelong, Stuart Bingham v Peter Ebdon, Kyren Wilson v David Grace, Mark Allen v Jimmy Robertson, John Higgins v Martin Gould, Barry Hawkins v Tom Ford, Ali Carter v Graeme Dott, Anthony McGill v Stephen Maguire, Judd Trump v Rory McLeod.