So now we know. After three brutal, or in some cases relatively easy, qualifiers 16 players fought through to take on the elite in the first round of the Betfred World Championship.
The Crucible waits with bated breath as the final touches are made to the venue and the arena, and everyone knows who they are playing, and when they are playing.
It is a powerful line-up, with the top 22 present and 28 of the top 32. The cream has risen to the top.
There were some notable achievements in qualifying. World No74 Mitchell Mann rightfully earned some plaudits for edging past Dechawat Poomjaeng 10-9 and will make his debut on the biggest stage.
For his pains he will take on Mark Allen, who while happy with the draw and buoyed by his recent success at the Players Championship, was not about to let any complacency divert him from his stated goal of one day lifting this trophy.
Peter Ebdon remarkably won 17 of his last 19 frames in his last two qualifying matches to reach the venue for a 23rd time, but the first for three years. That included the recovery from 9-3 adrift against Gerard Greene, Ebdon crossing the winning line 10-9 at 2am. Greene lost his tour card.
And Ali Carter looked in pretty good nick in his qualifying campaign. Twice a finalist of course, both times against Ronnie O’Sullivan, his match against defending champion Stuart Bingham looks a close one to call.
Carter has won their last six meetings, and on Wednesday night claimed that there were “eight good draws” from among the top seeds for the qualifiers. We can only guess who they were – and whether Bingham was among them!
Five-time winner and red-hot tournament favourite O’Sullivan was handed David Gilbert in the first round. Gilbert is a fine player, but that contest could be all about how he handles the occasion and the stage. You suspect that the Rocket will feel it could have been worse.
Speaking of which, Martin Gould got another real danger-man in Ding Junhui. Ding was a shock participant in qualifying having been edged down to world No17 by Stephen Maguire’s exploits at the China Open.
The 11-time ranking event winner dropped just seven frames in three matches in qualifying, and suggested, ironically, that he had “never been in better shape” arriving at the Crucible, where of course for a player of his talent he has a relatively poor record. With the pressure off, is this the year Ding does himself justice in Sheffield? No qualifier was won since Shaun Murphy in 2005, and it looks tougher to do that now.
Murphy himself faces a tough Crucible rematch against Anthony McGill, whom he beat in the quarter-finals last year on his way to the final. McGill will fancy some revenge, having knocked out Stephen Maguire and world No1 Mark Selby 12 months ago.
Selby, who had to pull out of the last two events for personal reasons, will play Rob Milkins, while Neil Robertson takes on Michael Holt and John Higgins was drawn against Ryan Day.
DRAW IN FULL
Stuart Bingham v Ali Carter
Stephen Maguire (Sco) v Alan McManus (Sco)
Ricky Walden v Robbie Williams
John Higgins (Sco) v Ryan Day (Wal)
Judd Trump v Liang Wenbo (Chi)
Martin Gould v Ding Junhui (Chi)
Mark Williams (Wal) v Graeme Dott (Sco)
Neil Robertson (Aus) v Michael Holt
Shaun Murphy v Anthony McGill (Sco)
Marco Fu (HK) v Peter Ebdon
Barry Hawkins v Zhang Anda (Chi)
Ronnie O’Sullivan v David Gilbert
Mark Allen (NIre) v Mitchell Mann
Joe Perry v Kyren Wilson
Michael White (Wal) v Sam Baird
Mark Selby v Robert Milkins
(Eng unless stated)