Barry Hawkins believes his bid to win a first snooker world title has arrived after the best season of his career.
The Kent potter starts his campaign in Sheffield on Wednesday evening against fellow Englishman Tom Ford.
Hawkins, 37, has enjoyed a notable campaign, winning the World Grand Prix in Preston by beating Ryan Day 10-7 to claim the third ranking title of his career.
He has also reached the final of the Northern Ireland Open plus the semi-finals of the English Open, Masters and Championship League.
“I think I have to say it’s the best season I’ve ever had,” the seventh seed said.
“I’ve won a tournament, reached the semis of The Masters and should have probably got to the final and also lost in the final in Northern Ireland and should have won that after being 5-1 up.
“But overall I’ve been consistent – any season you can win a tournament then you have to say it’s a good one and now hopefully I can finish on a high.
“Once I get settled in then hopefully I can use my experience. I think the longer matches do suit me as I’ve got a fairly solid all-round game. I’m not the most flamboyant but I’m not a slow player either.
“If I get in a rhythm I can score heavily and my safety is pretty good. But in the shorter format matches if someone has a burst of scoring then you’re going home.
“In the longer distance matches normally the better player comes out on top. You have a little bit of time to breathe if you have a bad session and potentially enough time to claw it back.
“It’s wide open as always and a lot of players can win it but this place always throws up surprises. However, apart from Graeme Dott and Stephen Maguire, I don’t see many of the other qualifiers winning it as too many of the top 16 are playing too well.”
The Crucible has been a happy hunting ground for Hawkins who has reached the final, two semi-finals and the last eight in the last four seasons.
But the left-hander is quick to point out that the world championship can also be a chastening experience.
“I remember my first time at the Crucible like it was yesterday – I’ll never forget it,” he said. “I beat Ding Junhui to qualify in 2006 and it was one of the toughest draws I could have got.
“Ding was still a bit of an up-and-coming player back then – but he had already won two ranking titles so it was a great win for me.
“So I came to the Crucible full of confidence but a little bit naive as it turned out. I was playing Ken Doherty and I won the first frame. I remember thinking to myself ‘this is alright, don’t know what all the fuss about’ … But I ended up losing the match 10-1 and I was like a rabbit in the headlights!
“It then took me five years to win my first match at the Crucible and that says it all about how hard it is.
“But in the last four years I’ve had some really unbelievable games here. I reached the final against Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2013 after only previously winning two matches at the Crucible.
“It was a great atmosphere and great match which will will always stay with me despite losing. A lot of people regard it as one of the best finals in terms of quality and Ronnie never missed anything that day.
“I probably played as well as I could, I missed a couple of balls but over that distance you can’t beat yourself up too much about it as it was a great final.
“Since then I’ve had more great games. In 2015, Neil Robertson and myself both made four centuries – the standard was phenomenal and I came through 13-12.
“Last year I beat Ronnie and I thought he played well also so that made it even sweeter. So it’s been good to me in the last few years and I’d like to add some more memories.”
Hawkins will be playing in his 12th consecutive Betfred World Championship and he hopes the tournament stays at the iconic Crucible.
The world famous Sheffield venue is celebrating its 40th anniversary as host of the sports flagship event.
“It’s the same anticipation … the same buzz … I’m OK at the moment but the adrenaline will start to flow once you step out there,” he said.
“I’ve prepared well and I’ll be trying my best – that’s all I can do.
“Without doubt this tournament is unique. The pressure is unbelievable and it’s a very special venue. It’s a great place to play and in my eyes the best place to play.
“The fact it only holds 980 is part of it being special – we could sell this out in a much bigger arena but the Crucible is tiny, it’s a little bit cramped but it makes for a cracking atmosphere when you’re playing.
“Everyone is so close to the table, they can see everything that is going and you can almost feel the crowd breathing down your neck.
“I hope the world championship stays here forever … I would not want to see it go anywhere else.”