James Wattana takes centre stage – if such a thing exists at Pontin’s – for the opening round of qualifying for the Grand Prix in Prestatyn today.
We thought we’d seen the last of Wattana when he was relegated from the circuit in 2008 but he won the Asian Championship to book a return.
In the early 1990s, many believed he would be Asia’s first world champion. The Thai was a terrific talent but despite a few near misses he failed to land any of the sport’s ‘big three’ titles (world, UK and Masters).
Wattana - real name Ratchapol Pu-Ob-Orm - first rose to prominence as a teenager in the 1980s when he captured the Thailand Masters, an invitation event featuring a number of top players and organised by Barry Hearn’s Matchroom.
He won the Asian Championship and then the world amateur title before, remarkably, reaching the final of one of his first tournaments as a professional, the 1989 Asian Open in his native Bangkok, where he lost out to Stephen Hendry.
It caused a sensation in Thailand and resulted in a boom that mirrors that happening now in China.
Wattana moved to Yorkshire and learned English, partly through playing Scrabble.
His laid back personality made him very popular with his fellow players and with those backstage at tournaments, journalists included.
Wattana would win his home title twice, in 1994 and 1995. He also won the 1992 Strachan Professional, a ranking event, the 1992 World Matchplay and rose as high as third in the world rankings.
He was a Crucible semi-finalist in 1993 and 1997 and famously made a 147 break at the 1992 British Open shortly after learning his father had been shot in Bangkok.
It wasn’t his first maximum. He made one at the 1991 World Masters but Sky were unable to get their cameras over to record any of it.
They got round this by simply not mentioning that the break had happened.
Wattana would decline during the late 1990s. In the qualifiers for the 2005 World Championship he was beaten 10-0 by Ali Carter and fell down the rankings.
He plays Stephen Rowlings at 4pm today, live on 110sport.tv.
Wattana is unlikely to ever again challenge for titles but if he enjoys playing he should continue for as long as he wants.
He’s earned the right to do that.