You can forgive Ash Carty for feeling a little bit short changed when he made his World Championship debut.
The Sheffield-based potter battled through a bruising qualifying stage to reach the to reach the Crucible for the very first time in 2020, only for Covid-19 restrictions to dampen his experience of snooker’s biggest stage.
Carty didn’t let it deter him. He led the 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham 5-4 after his first session in front of a vastly reduced capacity. He then returned the following day to play out the remainder of a 10-7 defeat with only the match officials inside the arena for company.
Snooker’s blue-ribband event felt the impact of the pandemic in terms of atmosphere and prestige – leaving Carty’s to reflect on what might have been. But he plans to use that disappointment as extra motivation to secure a second visit to snooker’s spiritual home later this month.
“I was a bit disappointed naturally,” said the world number 71. “It wasn’t the same the second day – it was just completely flat and it didn’t really feel like I was playing in the World Championship, especially at an arena like the Crucible.
“What’s happened over the last two years, obviously, no-one expected it you know. It’s nobody’s fault – it’s one of them things, and I’ve just got to get on with it. Hopefully I can get back to playing there in front of a full crowd.”
Included within Carty’s impressive maiden Crucible performance was the first century he’s made at the venue. And while some players played all their matches behind closed doors, Carty did at least have some friends and family there, owing to the fact that the first day of the tournament did allow some crowds into the auditorium.
“It was dream come true – unreal,” he told Betfair. “I remember that moment I got over the line in the last qualifier – I’ve never felt anything like it before – there was just so much relief and happiness.
“At the venue, I remember walking out through the tunnel and walking into the theatre; it’s something I’ll never forget – something I’ll look back on quite regularly.”
Treading a difficult path
Such is the strength in depth of snooker’s professional circuit these days that even qualifying for the event is as an achievement in itself.
Two years ago Carty beat Ross Muir, Jimmy Robertson and Robert Milkins to reach the Crucible and if he’s to repeat this feat he will need to win three matches again. First up is either Jackson Page or Sean O’Sullivan before a showdown with former World Championship semi-finalist Joe Perry. That’s just to reach the final qualifying round.
“It’s so hard to qualify for the Crucible; you’ve got to beat a lot of good players, but of course it does make me more motivated to get there because of what a special achievement it is,” said Carty.
“Once I get a bit of confidence behind me, I know I’m a match for anybody, so It’s just a case of trying to get a bit of momentum going. I know I’m fully capable of doing it again.”
“With the amount of good players in the qualifiers, it’s scary. You’ve got to be really on top of your form if you want to get through.”
Home advantage awaits
Born in Rotherham and now living in the Sheffield area, Carty as a South Yorkshire lad is one of the closest players to the prestigious Crucible venue, which only fuels his desire to make it through.
“Being local, you know you’re going to get a lot of support, which is even more amazing.
“There is so many people from the area that have supported me for the last 15 years and you want to make them proud as well and put a good performance on to show them what you can do.
Carty has been raised on watching classic Crucible showdowns here.
“The first time I went I must have been seven or eight years old and saw John Higgins play Shaun Murphy. I went with my granddad – that was the only time my granddad went to watch at the Crucible so that is special memory for me.
“I’ve also been to a couple of semi-finals so I’ve had some good memories with friends and family watching games at the Crucible and the goal now is to create more there as a player. You just want to keep bettering yourself every year and achieve more and more – you never want to stop getting better and achieving as much as you can.
“The World Championship is the biggest tournament there is in snooker so, if you can produce something in that tournament then obviously, it makes it extra special.”