sport

Ebdon sequence ended by Hull

Peter Ebdon's 22-year run as a fixture at snooker's World Championship is over.

The man who stunned Stephen Hendry by winning the 2002 Crucible final bowed out on Wednesday night in the final round of qualifying for this year's Dafabet-sponsored tournament.

Ebdon has been an ever-present at snooker's flagship tournament since making his debut in 1992, going from being a pony-tailed youngster, who flirted with a singing career, to the battle-hardered modern-day grinder he has become. As well as his one world title, he was runner-up in 1996 and 2006.

Finland's Robin Hull was the man who ended Ebdon's remarkable sequence of appearances, beating him 10-8 at Sheffield's Ponds Forge venue three days before the start of the tournament proper.

London-born Ebdon, now 43, has lost his last five first-round matches at the World Championship. Ebdon's title year was the only occasion that Hull had previously qualified to play at the Crucible.

Hull retired in 2008, having suffered heart trouble and survived a life-threatening virus, but he returned to the tour three years later and at the age of 39 has won four qualifying matches to reach snooker's most famous stage for a second time.

Ebdon's exit made him the latest former champion to fail at the final qualifying hurdle, joining Mark Williams and Graeme Dott in missing out.

Hull will not be the only player in Sheffield who feared he would not have another chance to play on snooker's most famous stage again.

When Stoke's Jamie Cope led John Higgins 12-10 in an exhilarating second-round match at the 2009 World Championship, the then 23-year-old looked set to make good on his obvious potential. Losing that one 13-12 was a setback, but it seemed certain Cope would be a force for years to come.

Yet Cope has since been hindered by a hereditary essential tremor. An inconvenience for anyone, for a snooker player reliant on a smooth cue action a shaking arm can extinguish a career.

Cope has considered quitting "loads of times", but the Stoke cueman instead turned to professional help and for the first time since 2011 he will be back at the Crucible after surviving three best-of-19-frame preliminary matches.

The late Canadian Bill Werbeniuk had a shake so bad he insisted on a pint of beer each frame to control it. Cope has struck on a smarter way to manage his condition.

"I'm working with someone new on the mental side. It's been a lot of help. It's quite emotional getting back to winning matches again," Cope said.

The 28-year-old awaits Thursday's noon draw to learn which of the 16 seeds he must tackle at snooker's most famous venue.

Cope added: "I've been turning up and not being able to compete and that's the worst feeling in the world. I'm proud of myself for keeping going.

"My sports psychologist knows quite a lot about snooker. It's nice to have somebody who understands what I was going through."

Cope booked his place on Tuesday evening, and as well as Hull on Wednesday it was the turn of China's Xiao Guodong, earning a World Championship debut, and Welshman Ryan Day to seal places in the 32-man draw.

World number 75 Michael Wasley will make his debut, after the 24-year-old edged out fellow Gloucester potter Robert Milkins on a deciding-frame respotted black.

Robbie Williams will be another Crucible first-timer after a nail-biting win over Ireland's Fergal O'Brien.

The Wirral left-hander had come from 7-4 down to beat Pankaj Advani 10-7 in the previous round but surpassed even that as he lost the first session 7-2 but recovered to lead 8-7.

The match went to a final frame decider and O'Brien prolonged even that to a re-spotted black, which Williams eventually potted.

Hamilton's Jamie Burnett, Pinner's Martin Gould and Welsh 22-year-old Michael White, a surprise quarter-finalist 12 months ago, also earned their places.