World Snooker Championship 2018: Crucible quest continues for qualifying survivors

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Watch the moment Selby clinched third world title
2018 World Championship
Venue: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Dates: 21 April - 7 May
Coverage: Watch live across BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Red Button, Connected TV, the BBC Sport website and mobile app.

Horrible, terrifying, draining and totally without enjoyment.

Qualifying for snooker's World Championship is purgatory, but it is massively rewarding in equal measure.

The above references cropped up time and time again when the 16 players who made it through to the sport's showpiece event described how it felt to negotiate the three qualifying rounds.

It was worth the pain and mental anguish.

This year's tournament features four Crucible virgins, a strong Welsh contingent, the fifth Thai qualifier in the venue's illustrious history, as well a former champion and a two-time runner-up who are both eager to revisit past glories.

BBC Sport takes a closer look at some new and a few not-so-new faces among the 16 who have upgraded from Sheffield's English Institute of Sport to the same city's more glamorous Crucible surroundings to reach this year's event.

The first-timers at snooker's actual Theatre

Snooker player Chris Wakelin
Chris Wakelin has risen to 55th in the world rankings after his best season to date

Gut-wrenching as the torment of negotiating qualifying can be, it has been worth it for the debutants.

England's Chris Wakelin and Liam Highfield are revelling in the prospect of a first appearance, while Thailand's Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and China's Lyu Haotian will also be there for the first time.

Wakelin thrashed China's Tian Pengfei in the final qualifying round and the former supermarket delivery driver says reaching round one shows simple hard work pays off.

"Four years ago I was still driving a van around Warwickshire and I loved that job," said Wakelin, 26.

"I had amazing people around me. Asda gave me time off and let me work my hours around tournaments and they had fundraisers for me to help pay my tour expenses.

"Everyone pulled together to give me that opportunity. Hopefully I can do them proud. It shows what can be done if you try."

The world number 55, who will play world number four Judd Trump in the first round, added: "I am privileged to do what I do. I hope I can push on.

"It's been my best season by far. And unlike other years it's still not over."

Snooker player Liam Highfield
Liam Highfield's best performance in a ranking event came at the Indian Open this season when he reached the quarter-finals

Highfield is 64th on the rankings list and made it through an increasingly nervy third qualifying round against Daniel Wells.

Swindon-born, Stoke-on-Trent-based Highfield said: "It was a scramble for the line at the end and it was just about who was shaking the least because we just wanted to get there."

The 27-year-old plays Masters champion Mark Allen in the first round - a reward for "practising for a silly amount of hours".

Un-Nooh, a new Thai star?

Un-Nooh, who famously missed a relatively simple black to score a 147 break at the UK Championship in 2015, follows compatriots James Wattana, Tai Pichit, Noppon Saengkham and Dechawat Poomjaeng to become the fifth Thai to play at the Crucible.

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History repeating itself: Un-Nooh misses final black in 147 bid back in December

Two years ago, the 33-year-old world number 58 was a spectator at the tournament.

Un-Nooh's wife has flown to England for the tournament and he knows he will have huge backing at home.

"Many Thai people will support and watch on television and will be excited for me," said Un-Nooh, whose debut pits him against last year's runner-up John Higgins.

"It's a great venue, but when I watched I said I need to come and play and not watch."

Tartan twosome

Scottish snooker player Graeme Dott
Graeme Dott has reached three finals at the Crucible, finishing runner-up in 2004 and 2010 and winning in 2006

Vastly experienced Scot Graeme Dott always seems to save his very best for the biggest of stages. He won the World Championship in 2006 and has twice been a runner-up.

Dogged and determined, and with an often under-rated all-round game, Dott is a player that no one will fancy taking on - and he knows that.

"When I was in the top 16 I was the good draw," Dott said. "Qualifiers don't want to play Ronnie, they would rather play me. Now I am not the good draw.

"I don't say anybody will be losing sleep playing me, but I can't imagine anybody saying 'I hope I get Graeme Dott'."

The 40-year-old says he is reaping the rewards of knuckling down with his preparation, adding: "I have played well all year so I am going there with confidence.

"I never played that well this week but I managed my game. Qualifying is horrible. After the build-up [to the final round], you're terrified when you get out there.

"You are just so relieved to get through it, you need to win frames when you are struggling and eventually your good stuff comes out. I like longer matches. I think it suits my game."

One man who will need to find his 'A' game pretty swiftly is Dott's fellow Scot Stephen Maguire.

Snooker player Stephen Maguire
Stephen Maguire said the one player he was eager to avoid in the main draw was Ronnie O'Sullivan, a day before being paired with the five-time champion

The 37-year faces five-time champion and 33-time ranking event winner Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Maguire has a remarkable record in reaching the Crucible, this being the 15th year in a row he will play in the first round.

He is twice a semi-finalist and three-times a quarter-finalist, but he has lost in the first round eight times and despite being far from his best in qualifying, he fully expects to be able to raise his game.

"I am not playing anywhere as near as good as I should be to compete with the top boys," he said. "I have had match practice but I wouldn't say it was good.

"But from the word go I have just fought and fought. I have not enjoyed one single second being down here on those tables - if you want to call them tables.

"But it's going to be different at the Crucible because the butterflies will be there and it will be a different atmosphere. Hopefully the tables will play well and the crowds will be there."

The Welsh charge

Snooker player Matthew Stevens
Matthew Stevens was one of the star names on tour for more than a decade from the mid-late 1990s but has slipped to 52 in the world rankings

Matthew Stevens was one of three Welshmen to survive qualifying, meaning four Welsh representatives in total and giving world number seven Mark Williams some home company.

Ryan Day, a three-time tournament winner this season, and Jamie Jones, who hammered world number 19 Liang Wenbo 10-0 in the third qualifying round, also progressed.

Two-times finalist and three-times semi-finalist Stevens, 40, beat veteran Irishman Ken Doherty 10-2 to reach the tournament for the first time in three years.

The world number 52, a World Championship runner-up to Williams in 2000 and Shaun Murphy in 2005, said it means "everything".

Stevens said: "I played very solid. I can only remember a couple of balls I missed. I had to be at my best to beat Ken and if I play like that I will be a handful for anyone.

"It was the best I have played for a long time. I am probably feeling better than I have for five or six years.

"If I practised more I wouldn't be 50-odd in the world. But I put in three hard weeks and it works. It makes it a lot easier if you practice.

"I enjoy the Crucible and I am chuffed to be in the draw."

Looking for a Crucible breakthrough

Snooker player Joe Perry
Joe Perry made the semi-finals at the Crucible a decade ago, losing to Ali Carter

Englishmen Joe Perry and Ricky Walden head a list of experienced pros who have come close to going all the way in Sheffield, while former top-16 player Robert Milkins is another man to have earned some big wins in Sheffield.

Three-time ranking event winner Walden from Chester was a Crucible semi-finalist in 2013 and the 35-year-old world number 27 has been showing signs of returning to form after injury affected his game.

Essex potter Perry, 43, is ranked 22 in the world. He made the final four in 2008 but has not been beyond the second round in seven attempts since and missed out last season.

"It's lovely to be back," said Perry, who plays reigning champion and world number one Mark Selby.

"You always want to finish your season here. It's so tough to qualify in this format. When you come through you feel like you have really achieved something. It's one hell of a tough week. It's so draining.

"If I have a great run and go deep it might make me tired, but I would rather be full of adrenaline. Fatigue doesn't come into it when you are flying high, deep in the World Championship."

Coverage of the tournament is live across BBC TV, radio and online, with the final taking place on 6 and 7 May.

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