WHEN the Shootout draw was made for the first round of matches, one tie caught the eye perhaps more than most for the quick-fire tournament with a shot-clock dropping to 10 seconds.
Former world champion Peter Ebdon was matched with Rory McLeod, two players that over the years have been accused of currently that most foul of snooker crimes by rivals – slow play.
Ebdon, 43, is without doubt one of the fiercest and most determined competitors on the tour, and of course a winner of nine ranking titles including his Crucible triumph in 2002.
But though capable of great shot-making and big breaks, Ebdon is not the quickest, and the longer a traditional-format match goes and the tighter it gets, the more pronounced the tendency.
Famously in a 2005 quarter-final win over Ronnie O’Sullivan at the world championships Ebdon took three minutes over a shot, and five minutes for a break of 12.
Those questioning his approach have included Judd Trump and Graeme Dott, but Ebdon has always insisted he is only harming himself as he plays better when he gets on with it.
Similarly McLeod, 42, has a reputation on the circuit for a pedestrian pace of play and regularly being one of the last to finish in evening sessions – a tag he still claims is unfair and angrily rejects.
As with Ebdon, the issue for McLeod was put under intense spotlight at the Crucible, after a victory over Ricky Walden in 2011, who in fairness was none too quick himself in that game.
Walden claimed the experience, which saw him lose 10-6, was akin to having teeth pulled at a visit to the dentist – and the ‘Dentist’ moniker has stuck, to McLeod’s irritation.
Given this background, it is perhaps inevitable that the prospect of Saturday’s 10-minute frame, with five seconds lopped off the initial 15 seconds a shot after five minutes, between the pair is intriguing.
Ahead of their clash at Blackpool’s Circus Arena McLeod told Inside Snooker: “Peter actually told me we had been drawn together. But I don’t even think about us being slow, I’m not the slowest on tour by far.
“You have people like Barry Pinches, Rod Lawler, Dave Harold, I am nothing compared to them – and Peter is not as slow as those guys either.
“People think it’s all a big joke saying I’m slow, but a lot of those saying it are slower than me, it’s a big laugh. People play slow against me.
“Ricky Walden set the stage for this, I had never known a fast player to play that slow as when he played me that time at the Crucible.
“I don’t give a damn what I get called, I know it is a load of garbage. Snooker players aren’t the brightest of people.
“It is all about getting in to your rhythm but 10 seconds is going to be frightening, so fast, 15 seconds to start with going down to 10 seconds.
“There is no time to think, the first shot that occurs to you whether it is the right one or the wrong one, you have to play it.
“You couldn’t have it quicker than 10 seconds, you wouldn’t have time to get round the table. At least I am as fit as most of them out there.”
McLeod did, however, produce one of the best moments in Shootout history three years ago with a fluked black off three cushions to beat Tony Drago with three seconds left.
He added: “Who said it was a fluke! I needed to get it in the pocket, and just hit it as hard as I could to get it in the pocket. It was amazing.”
Photographs by Monique Limbos.