Even the first of the 17 days which comprise the Embassy World Championship in Sheffield can be hazardous for defending champions. The Crucible's first world champion, John Spencer (1977), was a first-fence faller the following year, as were Terry Griffiths (1979), Steve Davis (1981) and Dennis Taylor (1985). Last night the modern game's greatest player, Stephen Hendry, joined the ranks of those failing to defend past the first 24 hours of the 17-day marathon.
Hendry was victim to one of the greatest shocks in Crucible history when Stuart Bingham, ranked only 92nd in the world and making his first appearance at the famous Sheffield venue, defeated the seven-times champion 10-7 in the first round.
It was only the third time in 16 Crucible appearances that Hendry had failed to survive the opening round. Hendry, 31, who first won the title in 1990, had recovered from 4-2 adrift to lead 5-4 at the conclusion of the first session and his 106 break in the ninth frame suggested that the morning struggle was attributable to nothing more than first-day nerves.
The Scot had missed three pinks to the middle pocket, putting each on the far jaw. Memories returned of his opening session four years ago, when he trailed Jason Ferguson 6-3 at lunch before recovering to win 10-8.
But Bingham, the 1996 world amateur champion, who won four matches in Newport last month to qualify, compiled breaks of 51, 78, 70 and 95 to claim the first four frames of the evening and an 8-5 interval lead. When Hendry closed to 8-6 with runs of 39 and 33, a trademark come-back loomed large but, trailing 21-53, he missed a simple red in the 15th frame and Bingham claimed a 9-6 lead with a run of 30. Understandably feeling the pressure as he moved towards victory, Bingham stuttered in the next but he potted a tough red to the middle and ran out the winner with a break of 87.
"I spent most of the day trying not to lose instead of concentrating on winning and that made me negative from the start," Hendry said. "My safety was poor and I wasn't playing aggressively enough. I made too many unforced mistakes but I thought that Stuart played fantastically well.
"He looked like he was totally relaxed and that he was here to enjoy it, which is exactly the right attitude when you're playing here for the first time."
Mark Williams, who will be many people's favourite for the title now that Hendry is on his way home, has appeared in nine world-ranking finals in the last two seasons and won five. He is already sure of finishing top of the end-ofseason rankings, but could not shake off John Read, the world No 62 from Wolverhampton. Williams was 5-2 up and leading 62-0, but Read cleared with 76 to snatch that frame on the black and secured the last of the day with a run of 91 to limit his overnight deficit to 5-4.
The meeting of Chris Small and Fergal O'Brien, two of the circuit's most meticulous performers, seemed likely to realise worst fears when a black-ball win for Small, and one on the pink for O'Brien, left a scoreline of 1-1 after 78 minutes. But there was little amiss with the subsequent quality. O'Brien's 54, 44 and 70 put him 3-1 up; Small, the Edinburgh Rock as he is sometimes introduced, completed his recovery to 3-3 with a run of 101, and again responded with 82 for 4-4 after O'Brien, a Dubliner, had poached the seventh on the pink with a 67 clearance.
Joe Swail, trailed Paul Hunter 3-1 at one point but secured a 5-4 overnight advantage by winning an extraordinary ninth frame. Hunter, trapped in a vile snooker on the last red, gave 41 points away plus a concluding free ball from which Swail clinched the frame.Reuse content