Joe Perry's mettle was tested in the fiercest heat the Crucible can offer before his 13-11 victory over Mark Williams, the defending champion, secured his place in the Embassy World Championship quarter-finals for the first time.
The world No 16 from Wisbech led 9-3 but trailed 11-10 before completing not only the most high profile but also the most lucrative win of his career. Now certain of pocketing at least £31,600, he also has high hopes of the £17,600 highest-break prize through his 145 in an opening session which he crucially shaded 5-3 by stealing its concluding frame on the black after needing a snooker. Perry's 47 clearance snatched another black ball win at the outset of the middle session and gave him the impetus to pull away to 9-3 before Williams won three of the session's remaining four frames.
Awaking with a 10-6 lead, Perry "felt good at breakfast" but confessed that as soon as he walked into the arena "the pressure hit me". Shut out of the opening frame of the day, he bungled the winning chance in the second when, with a wide range of acceptable positions from yellow for green, he left himself having to use the spider cueing over the blue.
Having lost that frame on the pink, he lost the next on the pink as well and the tide seemed to be running irresistibly for the champion as frame clinchers of 52 and 67 saw him 11-10 ahead. "I've been playing long enough to know that the pressure reverses in a situation like that," Perry said afterwards. "I started to play for pride again and not with all the expectation on my shoulders."
In the next frame, Williams lost momentum with his worst mistake of the day, a failed pink. Perry conceded 29 points from the same snooker but ultimately escaped to safety and a little later made 55 to go level with three to play. "That frame when Mark was 11-10 up was the least pressure I felt," said Perry, who maintained his composure to clinch a quarter-final place with frame winners of 53 and 82.
Perry's quarter-final opponent will be the UK Champion, Matthew Stevens, a 13-12 winner over Paul Hunter on the final pink after a tense 40-minute decider.
Hunter, Masters Champion three times in the last four years, resumed 10-6 up but memories of his semi-final defeat here last year when he lead Ken Doherty 15-9 only to lose 17-16 were aroused by Stevens catching him at 10-10. Having gone two up with three to play, Hunter's match ball pink at 12-10 almost dropped to a middle pocket but the deciding frame of many twists and turns was resolved by Hunter going in-off from a safety shot and Stevens potting blue and pink for victory.
"I was shaking like a leaf on the blue," Stevens admitted. "At 12-10, Paul gave me a few lifelines. At 12-12 I knew from experience anything could happen."
Barry Pinches, the world No 36, followed his defeat of Jimmy White by taking a 3-2 lead over Stephen Hendry before the seven-times champion obtained a 5-3 overnight advantage.