1997 world champion Ken Doherty will not be making a competitive return to the Crucible Theatre this year after suffering a 6-3 defeat to former Northern Ireland Open winner Mark King in the third round of qualifying.
50-year-old Doherty has not played at the scene of his greatest triumph since losing 13-8 to Alan McManus in the last 16 in 2014 – and was largely outplayed by world number 41 King despite claiming the opening frame with a break of 58 at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
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After winning the second and third frames for a 2-1 advantage, King rolled in a lovely 125 break for a 3-1 lead at the mid-session interval.
Dubliner Doherty’s day got worse when he lost the fifth frame to a break of 73 having opened with a 60 of his own.
His predicament became perilous when King ran in 61 for a 5-1 lead to move to the cusp of the final qualifying round.
Doherty, ranked a lowly 69 in the world, responded with an 80 and 51 to reduce the deficit to 5-3, but the damage was already done as King compiled a classy closing run of 97 to conclude his business for the day.
Romford’s King has not qualified for the sport’s biggest since 2013 – and will face world number 80 Ian Burns over the best of 19 frames on Tuesday hoping to be in Wednesday’s draw for the last 32 which starts at the Crucible on Friday morning.
“I know it’s the World Championship, and it is special, but we’re just so happy to be playing again,” said King.
“If I play well then I’ll win. I’m loving golf at the minute. I’m down to 15 (handicap) from 21. I’ve practised really hard, but I’m trying to come into it with a fresher attitude.
“With all that is going on in the world at the moment, it isn’t the be all and end all. As long as the kids and the missus are well, it’s only a game of snooker at the end of the day.”
King has used lockdown to lose some weight after playing at the Gibraltar Open in March.
“I broke my thumb playing football in February and put a stone on before I played in Gibraltar. I was like Mr Blobby. I was putting on my waistcoat and buttons were popping,” said King.
“I was so disgusted with myself that I did a fitness plan and lost a stone over 60 days in lockdown. I was golfing, walking and doing work-outs.”
Burns was a 6-3 winner against Michael Holt, making breaks of 77, 80, 50 and 64 to secure a place in the final round of qualifying.
Doherty has the consolation of knowing he has retained his full-time card for another season having completed a 6-4 win over Fraser Patrick in the second qualifying round, but will be disappointed not to progress further in the event.
Former Masters finalist Joe Perry is also out after suffering a 6-4 defeat to world number 88 Jamie Clarke, who won the final two frames of the match courtesy of breaks of 66 and 72.
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