ALI Carter’s emphatic Masters victory over Barry Hawkins felt like a win worth far, far more than a quarter-final place, and the Captain’s post-match comments confirmed that suspicion.
An avalanche of good wishes has descended in Carter’s direction following his very welcome return to the fray after six months out having cancer treatment.
Carter has spoken very movingly and frankly about his recent experience in a way that has clearly been inspirational to many of those watching on and willing him back to good health.
His perspective on snooker and sport may never be the same, and the 35-year-old Carter certainly has the nous and means to generate income in other ways if he ever stopped playing.
But at heart Carter is a competitive animal. That is why he has won three ranking titles, and reached two world finals at the Crucible – and why he would love to add to that CV.
For that reason he was disappointed with his showings in Coventry and York in respectively the Champion of Champions and the UK Championship.
Those appearances came after his initial return at the General Cup in Hong Kong produced the fairytale success of a comeback title, but Carter knows there are hard yards ahead.
And that is why such an impressive 6-1 win over world No5 Hawkins in the elite, top-16 only setting of the Masters, represented such a personal watershed.
Having been given the all-clear by doctors shortly before Christmas, Carter both played and spoke after the match like someone who was ‘back’ in the best sense, feeling that with hindsight he had not been ready for the UK test.
Ahead of a Masters quarter-final – only his second – against world No1 Neil Robertson, Carter said: “It felt very good out there against Barry. The reception was great and I wanted to give a good account of myself.
“I felt I had been a bit unlucky in the last two big tournaments after I came back, the UK never went my way - but I still had the cancer hanging over me waiting for the medical all-clear.
“Now that has happened I fell ready to get my career back. It was real reminder to myself with the performance against Barry that I am one of the top players in the world.
“I have been to hell and back, through so much after the last 18 months so it is no wonder I struggled a bit early on but I feel I turned a corner on Tuesday.
“It was a big win for me, and now I can focus on my career and being back at the top where I belong.
“If it hadn’t have been for everything that has happened to me I might have been more successful, but I am proud to have got through it. It has not been pleasant.
“Of course you’re going to be touched by a reception like that, it’s like the crowd have been with me all along and throughout the whole ordeal.
“It was like they had felt it and been through it with me, so it was great to be out there on a single table in the arena.
“And I definitely think I am starting to cope with things better event by event. In the UK I put myself under too much pressure to come back too early, and I wasn’t ready.
“But in late December when the full body scan showed no sign of any reoccurrence that was what I had been waiting for.
“It’s a New Year, I had a great New Year with my mates and it’s time to crack on now.
“I do have goals for this season, I want to win some tournaments again. I think I will, I don’t quite know when, but I am pleased to be back playing, competing and feeling good.
“Doubling the black to go 3-1 up against Barry was a big turning point in the match, and after that I didn’t give him a look-in.
“My good friend Peter Ebdon was there to support me and help me, and he told me just to keep the pressure on and I managed to do that.
“Neil Robertson is another great player, but they all are here so I’ll have another go on Thursday. This tournament hasn’t been that nice to me over the years, so maybe that can change.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos