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Mark Joyce will face defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in the World Snooker Championship first round after ending his 15-year wait to reach the Crucible, writes Ross Lawson.
Walsall’s Joyce has been on tour since 2006 and was considered by many to be the greatest player never to reach the main stage of the Championship.
But that monkey is now off his back – and in some style, giving him a chance to open the tournament in front of fans in Sheffield, live on Eurosport on Saturday morning.
“If I get drawn against Ronnie, it would be a fantastic honour to open the tournament,” he said before the draw was made.
“Getting in the draw was the main thing. I beat Ronnie the last time we played a couple of years ago, and he’s the best player to have ever played the game in my opinion.
“There were a few other players I wouldn’t have mind drawing ahead of him.
"Quite a few people have said that I'm one of the best players to have never reached the Crucible.
"Some of the players this week have asked when I last played there, even they think I've been there.
"To get that monkey off the back is massive.”
Joyce got the better of Igor Figueiredo in the fourth and final round of qualifying, preventing the Brazilian from becoming the first South American to reach the Crucible.
But Joyce wasn’t there to provide sympathy, ending more than a decade of disappointment with a 10-7 win at the English Institute of Sport.
"I felt a bit bad for Igor, for a South American player to get there would have been fantastic for the sport,” he added.
"Had I not been playing him myself, I would have been cheering him on. You've got to do your own job out there.”
While technical ability was never in doubt, playing for so long and not reaching the last 32 of the World Championships had left Joyce with plenty to ponder.
But with the long-term ambition achieved, it’s now time to embrace a tournament which will also play host to a small number of fans on the opening day.
As one of two debutants in the draw, the 37-year-old knows the pressure is off – leaving him feeling relaxed about what’s to come on Saturday morning.
"I can just go and relax now, go and enjoy it and savour the occasion,” he added. “If I'd qualified last year, it would have been a shame to make my debut in an empty arena.
"The ability is there, I've always known that, it's always about how it's been between the ears.
"Every time I come to qualifying, I tend to struggle. In the early years, I got to the final round a couple of times but didn't really believe I was going to win.
"When you first turn professional, it's every player's dream to play at The Crucible.
"It's something that's eluded me over the years, but I'm now really looking forward to that.
"I've reached a ranking final before but I’ve never felt pressure quite like I did in the closing stages against Igor. Pressure does funny things to people.”
Watch the World Snooker Championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from April 17- May 3