The hunted has become the hunter as former champion Stuart Bingham prepares to do battle with high-flying Ding Junhui in the World Snooker Championship, writes Ross Lawson.
Bingham won snooker’s greatest prize in 2015 but had the unusual experience of coming through qualifying in Sheffield just to reach the Crucible.
But progress he did, overcoming Chen Zifan and then Luca Brecel to become one of the most-feared qualifiers in the draw.
China’s Ding was the unfortunate man to draw the Basildon potter, relishing the chance to see what he can do as an underdog in the event against the world No.9.
“These two qualifying games will help in getting me a bit sharp so I’m looking forward to being able to drive up knowing I’m playing at the Crucible,” said Bingham, who opens his account on Monday, live on Eurosport.
“I remember being the hunted when I was world champion, so if I’m playing these top players now, I feel like I have nothing to lose.
“If I can go out there and play how I can, I’ve got every chance.”
When asked if needing to qualify was an ‘insult’, Bingham said: “If I had that mindset, it would have been hard to get up for the match.
“But the rankings don’t lie, I’ve slipped down a little bit over the past two years so I’m here for a reason.
“I had to get my head around that, I was going to be the favourite whoever I played at this stage, I just had to produce some good snooker and I did.”
Bingham’s Crucible record makes for an interesting reading, winning the title 15 years after his first appearance to make him the oldest first-time winner at 38.
But he hasn’t been able to back up that success, failing to reach the quarter-finals in the five subsequent editions of the World Championship.
The fear of missing out has given him some much-needed drive, however, feeling in a better place having been made to work for his first-round spot.
“As soon as I knew I would have to qualify for the World Championships, I started putting a lot of work in, improved on some fitness, and it’s really paid off,” he added.
“If I’d have missed the Championship, it would have been really tough watching at home.
“I got a running machine to try and get myself a bit fitter for these longer sessions, I feel refreshed currently and I’ll be getting ready for the event.
“Being the hunter gives you a bit more of a relaxed feeling, you go into the match thinking you’re not the favourite, but it feels good being the hunted.
“Before these past five or ten years, I was in that situation and knowing I can beat these top players and I’ve been able to do that more in recent seasons.”
Watch the World Snooker Championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from April 17- May 3