STUART BINGHAM admits he still gets “butterflies” every time he walks out at the Crucible to stake his claim to be a sporting world champion.
Ballrun, 40, was 23 years-old and world ranked 92 when he made his debut at the home of snooker in the year 2000.
Since then has qualified to break off at the famous venue nine times – memorably winning the title in 2015 with victory over Shaun Murphy in the final – and is now world No 3 and a married father-of-three.
But ahead of the start of his latest tilt at the crown this Sunday, he says the thrill of stepping out in Sheffield is as great as ever.
Bingham said: “When I think about the walk-out it gives you butterflies.
“Above my table at home I have a nice mural of me there in the semi-finals and it gives me butterflies thinking I am going to play there in a couple of days’ time. It’s brilliant and I can’t wait.”
Bingham lost in the last 16 in his debut Crucible year to cult hero Jimmy White but that came after he pulled off a huge shock by knocking out seven-time and reigning champion Stephen Hendry.
And two years later Ballrun was grabbing headlines again – this time for a miss on a pink for a 147 and £167,000 cheque in an opening round defeat to Ken Doherty (the duo are pictured above).
Bingham said: “I think I ended up losing 10-7 to Ken but even now I remember missing that pink on the max.
“I remember what I was thinking as I was potting the colours – house, holiday, cars – it still haunts me! So it would be nice to put that to bed and make a max there one day.”
After the defeat to Doherty, Bingham failed to qualify for five years in a row, exiting in the qualifiers to Nigel Bond, Rory McLeod, Michael Holt, Ryan Day and Fergal O’Brien.
But since 2008 he has secured a spot at the Crucible eight out of the nine years, which included a quarter-final defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2013 and the title win in 2015 (pictured below).
The Basildon-based star arrives this season on the back of a brilliant Welsh Open win in February but he believes defending champion Mark Selby will be the man to beat again.
He said: “Selby’s playing well and has just come off a win in China. He is truly the No 1 best player in the world at the moment.
“He still wins matches when he is on his C-game – that is how good he is.
“But you have got people like Marco Fu, Ding… and you never know you might get a qualifier coming through like Yan Bingtao or one of the young Chinese lads. There is so much good talent out there at the moment.”
There is a £375,000 top prize on offer to this year’s world champion and the event runs between April 15 and May 1.
Bingham starts at 2.30pm on Sunday (April 16) in a match which concludes the following day at 10am.
He will learn which qualifier he will face after Thursday’s draw but if he does progress he will play the winner of the match between Kyren Wilson and his first-round opponent.