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Watch: Crucible curse strikes again as Gilbert knocks out defending champion Brecel

David Gilbert ceelbrates his win over Luca Brecel. Photo: World Snooker

Luca Brecel let slip a 9-6 lead as he crashed out in the opening round of the Cazoo World Championship, losing 10-9 to David Gilbert to become the latest victim of the famed Crucible Curse.

A year ago, Brecel produced one of the all-time great Crucible campaigns, beating the likes of Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby with a unique style of play.

But throughout this season the Belgian, a private person who prefers to avoid the spotlight, has struggled with the added burden of being world champion. And on Saturday night, suffering from illness and fatigue, he made mistakes at crucial moments – notably in frame 18 as he missed a straight-forward green when the chance to win 10-8 beckoned.

He becomes the 19th first-time Crucible champion to fail to defend the title the following year, and the seventh to go out in the opening round.

There have been a few highlights for Brecel this season – he was runner-up at the Shanghai Masters and Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker, and partnered Reanne Evans to victory at the World Mixed Doubles.

But he hasn’t appeared in the semi-finals of a single ranking event and will finish 2023/24 outside the top 40 of the one-year list. Brecel at least has the chance to take time off, regain health and fitness, and come back next season with less attention and expectation. 

While Brecel was far from his best on Saturday night, all credit should go to Gilbert, who rose to the occasion, particularly in the closing stages as he took the last four frames with a series of excellent breaks.

 A semi-finalist in 2019, the world number 31 from Tamworth looked sharp in the qualifying rounds and continued that momentum to score one of his best ever results. The 42-year-old can look forward to a last-16 meeting with Robert Mikins or Pang Junxu on Thursday or Friday.

Brecel led 6-3 after the first session, firing breaks of 134 and 104, and took the first frame tonight on the final black. Gilbert pulled one back then the 12th also came down to the black, and a weak safety from Brecel gifted his opponent the chance to close to 7-5.

Gilbert missed a tricky red to a top corner when he led 30-8 in frame 13, and Brecel’s 58 restored his three-frame advantage, then the 14th came down to the last red and a cracking long pot set Gilbert up to narrow the gap at 8-6.

Trapped in a snooker at the start of frame 15, Brecel smashed into the pack and fluked a red to a centre pocket, taking advantage with a break of 85. Gilbert came from 55-1 down to snatch the next with a superb 65 clearance, then made an 81 for 9-8.

In the 18th, Brecel was just a few pots from victory when he missed the green to a baulk corner at 51-6, and again Gilbert punished him with 53 to set up the decider.

Snookering his opponent behind the green, Gilbert earned a scoring opportunity and made 65 before missing a red to a top corner. Brecel couldn’t create a chance to counter, and when Gilbert potted one more red the handshake followed.

“I was really tired tonight,” admitted Brecel, who has suffered from a throat infection for several weeks.

“I played well in patches but never really settled. I couldn’t try any harder. Everyone gets ill sometimes and that’s not an excuse because Dave played really well and deserved to win. I am happy for him, he’s a lovely guy and I hope he goes a long way. I need to work on my fitness now, try to get back in shape.”

Gilbert said: “It’s a brilliant win for me. At 9-6 I was out, then Luca messed up and I found some momentum, a better pace. I just wanted to attack after that. At 8-5 I was chucking apples and bananas around the dressing room. But I wanted to be out there, so that bit of anger helped me.

“A couple of months ago I would given up early in the match because a few things went against me. But I accepted it today and enjoyed being out there, enjoyed the challenge of the Crucible because it’s a special place.

“I felt good all day, but it took me until the last few frames to find the right rhythm. I gave it a bit of a fist and wave to the crowd at the end because I was pumped up, I would never usually do that and I apologise to Luca.”

Gilbert credits his turn around in form to fellow player Andy Lee, who has been working with him in recent weeks. He added: “Andy came to see me a few weeks ago. We’ve played snooker and been in the gym and he has been telling me what to eat. I have practised more in the last four weeks than I had done in two years.”

Meanwhile, Tom Ford, who is competing as a top 16 seed for the first time, earned a 6-3 overnight lead over Ricky Walden.

After sharing the first two frames, Ford took five of the next six with top breaks of 83, 50, 79 and 53.

Walden took the last of the session with a superb 142 total clearance, but needs seven of the last ten when they resume on Sunday evening. 

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