Consider the following players: Steve Davis, Jimmy White, Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Shaun Murphy.
All great names, all first round losers on their respective Crucible debuts.
The Sheffield theatre is like no other snooker venue. It has turned many a leg to jelly and quickened the heartbeat of even the most laid back players.
This is partly because it is the World Championship and therefore matters so much but there’s no doubt that the unique atmosphere the cramped arena creates adds to the pressure.
Nobody in a million years would choose the Crucible as a World Championship venue today. There’s barely room for the two tables and the audience can reach out and almost touch the players.
But this is precisely what makes it so special.
When Higgins made his debut in 1995 he said he hated the place. It felt strange and uncomfortable playing there. Three world titles later and it’s fair to say he’s changed his mind.
Of course, some players do get over the nerves to get through the first round at the first time of asking.
John Parrott did in 1984. Peter Ebdon shocked Davis in 1992. Mark Williams was successful in 1997.
And, most famously of all, Terry Griffiths went all the way to the title in 1979.
But newcomers are invariably like fish out of water, struggling to find the game that got them to the Crucible in the first place.
So what fate awaits this year’s two debutants, Tom Ford and Zhang Anda?
Ford is set to face a player in Mark Allen who himself made a fine debut appearance in 2007 when he beat Ken Doherty.
And Allen will be looking to exploit any signs of nerves or discomfort from his opponent, seizing on a slow start as he did last year against Martin Gould.
Zhang’s advantage is that he is not steeped in the folklore of the Crucible. Refreshingly, he’s one of the few people who neither knows nor cares about THAT black ball final.
But he will know about Hendry and what he has achieved in Sheffield over the last quarter of a century.
And as it’s the biggest match so far of the 18 year-old’s short career it’s fair to assume there will be a few nerves fluttering around.
Hendry’s disadvantage is that he will almost certainly never have seen Zhang play. I’ve only seen him play once and that was in coolly beating Ricky Walden to qualify.
I was impressed with him there but it’s impossible to say if he can repeat that performance next month when it really matters.
If Zhang does lose he should take heart from Hendry’s own debut in 1986 at the age of 17.
He was beaten 10-8 by Willie Thorne who, through a mixture of sporting goodwill and sheer relief, applauded him out of the arena.
Like everyone else Thorne knew that, even though the young Scot’s first appearance had ended in defeat, he would be back...