Snooker: Hunter faces toughest challenge after Holt causes upset

Paul Hunter plans to return to the World Championship in 2006 after becoming the highest-ranked player to exit this year's event when he lost in the first round here in Sheffield yesterday.

Paul Hunter plans to return to the World Championship in 2006 after becoming the highest-ranked player to exit this year's event when he lost in the first round here in Sheffield yesterday.

The fourth seed, diagnosed with cancer of the colon two weeks ago, was beaten 10-8 by the world No 29 Michael Holt, a debutant in the televised stages of this event. Tough months lie ahead for Hunter, who will begin his battle against the disease immediately, but his aim is to be able to take his place in the 32-man field again 12 months from now.

"Hopefully, I will be back here fighting next year," Hunter said. "I will have a scan and I will get the results on Wednesday to find out whether the cancer has got any worse.

"And now I am out of the World Championship I can start chemotherapy treatment, which will last about three months. I'm just taking one day at a time."

Hunter had led 5-4 after the first session against Holt but despite compiling two century breaks he could not stop the 26-year-old from Nottingham recording the best victory of his career. Holt went 9-6 ahead before Hunter claimed the next two frames and looked set to take the match into a decider, but a composed break of 38 wrapped it up for the qualified fitness instructor.

"I take my hat off to Michael ­ he played some great snooker. At 9-9 I would have fancied it but he made a great clearance."

Holt paid a glowing tribute to Hunter who took time to praise his conqueror when they shook hands. "At the end Paul said, 'Well played, best of luck' and was a true gentleman. He is a great player and a great lad and I wish him all the best now," said Holt, who will meet the six-times former champion Steve Davis in the second round on Friday.

Earlier, another seed went out as the world No 12 Chris Small was beaten 10-5 by the 22-year-old Shaun Murphy ­ his first win in three Crucible appearances.

Jimmy White, six times a runner-up, is close to victory over Fergal O'Brien, having taken an 8-1 lead.

Embassy World Championship (Sheffield): Today's order of play: 10am: M Fu (HK) v A Carter (Eng), J White (Eng) v F O'Brien (Ire). 2.30pm: J Higgins (Sco) v M Selby (Eng), S Hendry (Sco) v N Robertson (Aus). 6.30pm: M Fu (HK) v A Carter (Eng), M Williams (Wal) v R Milkins (Eng).

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