The race to win the Betfred World Championship has been blown wide open after last year’s two finalists crashed out in the opening 24 hours.
First defending champion Stuart Bingham fell foul of the “Crucible Curse” of no first-time winner ever having successfully defended their title.
He was left “gutted” after losing 10-9 on Saturday to fellow Essex cueman Ali Carter.
Then yesterday, last year’s runner-up Shaun Murphy suffered a giant-killing loss to qualifier Anthony McGill. It was a repeat of last year’s quarter-final tie, and the 25-year-old from Scotland gained revenge.
Bingham, 39, said: “I’m obviously gutted, I didn’t really get a clear chance in the last frame. I didn’t feel comfortable all the way through the match; I missed chances and maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
“I made too many errors, in fact I can’t believe I made a match of it. Hats off to Ali, I hope he goes on and wins it.
“I’ll keep the roar I got (in the morning) with me for the rest of my life. I tried to keep a smile on my face when things weren’t going right.”
Bingham started poorly, and was 5-1 and 8-5 down to 36-year-old Carter, who had to win three qualifying rounds just to reach the televised stages.
Pure adrenaline seemed to drag the defending champion to the table, as he scrapped back to lead 9-8.
But Carter held his nerve including in a final-frame decider that lasted 43 minutes – to clinch the last two frames and a second-round meeting with Alan McManus, who beat Stephen Maguire 10-7 yesterday.
“I’m delighted to win,” said Carter, who has battled against serious health issues in recent years, including cancer.
“I fancied winning the decider, I felt as if it was my turn. I’m fitter than anyone here, I’m feeling better than I’ve ever felt.
“I don’t feel like it’s taken anything out of me, I’m really enjoying being here. Everything was set up to go wrong for Stuart, the writing was on the wall for him.
“Hopefully I can bring another title back to Essex. This season is a rebuilding season for me, one brick at a time.”
The 32 players who started out on Saturday morning were packed of quality, including all the world champions – nine in total – from this century.
Joining Bingham on making an early exit is 2005 world champion Murphy, who looked in control when he moved 6-4 ahead, following a break of 105.
But McGill – who beat world No 1 Mark Selby and Maguire last year on his run to the last eight – won six of the next eight frames to set up a meeting with Marco Fu, who beat 2002 world champion Peter Ebdon. Murphy believes McGill can go deep into the tournament if he can keep his nerve.
“If he can keep his composure and keep playing with enjoyment, he could take some stopping this week,” said Murphy.
“The strength in depth of snooker is the best it’s ever been – 28 of the world’s top 32 are here, and none of these results are surprises. I felt my game coming here was in better shape than it was last year, but unfortunately I’ve come up against someone who is playing even better than me.”
McGill has an affinity with the Crucible. Since reaching the quarter-finals last year, he has failed to go beyond the last 32 of a ranking tournament.
But he was impressive against Murphy and the Scotsman believes the gap between the world’s top 16 and the chasing pack from the qualifiers is getting smaller.
“Overall, the qualifiers, people like me, are more capable now. The difference between the top players and the qualifiers is very marginal these days, and that’s showed already,” said McGill. “I suppose I could win it. I’ve got a cue in my hand and I’m still in it.”
Five-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan leads Tamworth’s David Gilbert 6-3 when their match resumes this morning.