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Ditton’s Barry Hawkins ready to take on Ryan Day in World Snooker Championship return at the Crucible with fires still burning

Barry Hawkins will return to the Crucible this year convinced he has proved a point to those who questioned whether he still had the hunger to pursue a second appearance in a World Snooker Championship Final.

The Ditton cueman begins his latest title bid on Tuesday against qualifier Ryan Day with the winner likely to face seven-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in round two.

Ditton's Barry Hawkins is back at the home of snooker after missing the cut last year. Picture: World Snooker
Ditton's Barry Hawkins is back at the home of snooker after missing the cut last year. Picture: World Snooker

Hawkins’ relatively serene progress within the game’s elite - peaking with his 2013 Final loss to O’Sullivan - was rudely interrupted last year when he dropped out of the top 16 and failed to qualify for Sheffield the first time in 17 years.

But while the 44-year-old admits he too started to doubt his ability to return, a stellar current season, capped by his ending a seven-year wait for a fourth ranking title at the European Masters in August, will send him back to Sheffield in good heart.

“I know sometimes I come across like I’m not hungry enough, but it must be in there somewhere or I wouldn’t have been around as long as I have,” Hawkins told the PA news agency. “You need that hunger or you’re not going to succeed.

“I was devastated to miss out last year and for my run to come to an end. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so low about snooker.

“Inevitably, when you’ve played in ranking Finals and massive arenas, your ranking starts to drop and you can’t help but start wondering if you’re on the slippery slope to retirement.

“It’s hard to keep that sustainability and that mindset, but I got my nose back in the top 16 and I set my goal to be seeded for the Crucible. I’ve bounced back this season and after winning the title in Germany I feel like my game is in good shape.”

Hawkins evolved into one of the Crucible’s most consistent performances in the wake of his run to the 2013 Final, embarking on a run that would see him reach four Semi-Finals and one Quarter-Final over the next five years, including an epic 13-12 second-round win over O’Sullivan in 2016.

But his seemingly effortless progress belied a story of gritty resilience for the mild-mannered Hawkins, who failed to reach Sheffield for nine straight years before booking his place at the 10th attempt in 2006 - only to lose 10-1 to Ken Doherty.

“My immediate reaction was, thank God it’s over,” recalled Hawkins. “I was only young and I was completely demoralised, but at the same time I remember coming off and thinking, ‘I want to get back in there’.

“I couldn’t have imagined that I was going to go and play there so many times, have some unbelievable runs and beat some of the greatest players. It seems like a distant memory now but I suppose it did toughen me up for what was ahead.”

One of only a handful of current players to have proved he has the stamina for the 17-day Crucible slog, Hawkins, who is also a two-time Masters finalist, has renewed hope that could crown his career with a coveted triple crown title.

“As the years go by the belief slowly dwindles that you are going to win one of the big ones,” he added.

“But you’ve just got to keep punching and live in hope, because you never know when it could happen. It could come completely out of the blue.

“One thing’s for sure, if I finish my career and I haven’t managed it, it won’t be through lack of trying.”

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