Matthew Stevens has had some tough times in the game over the years but his Crucible pedigree is unquestionable and that could just about get him over the line against Barry Hawkins, says Paul Krishnamurty.
"A former UK champion, Stevens twice blew big leads in world finals and also lost three close semi-finals at his peak. Those career highlights were, admittedly, a long time ago but Matthew's career has found a second wind since Barry Hearn's snooker revolution."
After being on the receiving end of so many agonisingly close defeats at the Crucible, Matthew Stevens could have been forgiven thinking the chance to become world champion had passed him by. This year's draw, however, has opened right up for him and from being a barely considered 100.099/1 chance pre-tournament, the Welshman is suddenly hot favourite to reach the semis. Barry Hawkins will be no pushover today, but Stevens is marginally fancied to call upon his vast experience and reach his ninth Crucible quarter-final. Whoever wins will fancy their chances in a quarter-final against the winner of the ongoing low-standard clash between Ryan Day and Cao Yupeng.
It would probably be dangerous to read too much into either man's one-sided first-round victories. Hawkins' win over Mark Selby reads well, but the world number one has been suffering with a neck injury and looked very rusty. Likewise, Marco Fu simply put up no resistance to Stevens. A better guide may lie in analysis over the longer-term, particularly regarding their pedigree in big events.
A former UK champion, Stevens twice blew big leads in world finals and also lost three close semi-finals at his peak. Those career highlights were, admittedly, a long time ago but Matthew's career has found a second wind since Barry Hearn's snooker revolution. Still only 34, he seems to have benefitted from playing so many more regular tournaments, recapturing a top-16 place, winning last year's Championship League and reaching a PTC final. Though a likeably consistent pro, Hawkins' career has never hit quite the same heights. He's never reached a ranking final and only won twice in eight matches at the Crucible. 12 months ago, he lost a deciding frame to Mark Allen at the same stage and a similar frustrating fate may be on the cards.