Graeme Dott begins the defence of his Crucible crown hoping to have finally silenced his critics.
Dott edged Peter Ebdon 18-14 in a marathon final to land the 888.com World Championship crown 12 months ago.
But instead of enjoying praise for his victory, the pint-sized Larkhall potter was forced to endure a barrage of criticism for the slow pace of the final, which finished just before 1am.
Some people even suggested the 29 year-old would be a one-hit wonder but Dott heads to Sheffield this week as the man in form after capturing the China Open title in Beijing earlier this month.
He said: “The criticism was over the top. Peter would admit that he’s a methodically slow player and when things aren’t going well he slows down even more. There’s nothing wrong with that but what was I supposed to do?
“Everyone talks about the 1985 final, where Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis on the black, as a classic but Dennis and Steve have admitted themselves that they couldn’t pot a ball.
“People just remember the end and yet Peter and I got slated. I thought that was unfair.”
Even so, Dott knew that any slip-up this season would be seized on by those who are sceptical of his abilities as a top player.
That is why he is so relieved to be heading to the game’s top event as provisional world no.1 having won one title, reached the UK Championship semi-finals and appeared in the quarters of three other ranking tournaments.
Dott said: “I was nervous at the start of the season that if I started losing in the first round of tournaments people would start saying the world title was just a fluke.
“At least winning in China has taken that away. I’ve quickened up my game and I’m a better player than I was last year. I think people can see that.”
Dott starts his title defence on Saturday against Preston ’s Ian McCulloch but has the famous Crucible ‘curse’ to contend with.
No first time winner has successfully hung on to the trophy since the tournament moved to Sheffield in 1977.
He said: “It’s not so much a curse, but some players have put themselves under extra pressure because they think they had a really good chance to win it again. I tend not to do that because playing there is hard enough.
“Nobody could say I couldn’t win it this year after how I played in China but I could just as easily get beat 10-2 in the first round.
“I’d rather the tournament had already started, though. The waiting is the worst part. There’s pressure on me as defending champion but every year is the same.
“Everyone’s under it no matter who they are. I played John Parrott last year. He’s played at the Crucible over 20 times and he said walking out into the arena was the most nervous he’s ever felt.
“But I love playing there. I love the psychological aspect of it – when players think they’ve got you beat and you come back at them, and how they deal with that.”
Dott proved his mettle last year by prevailing in a deciding frame to beat Aussie Neil Robertson in the quarter-finals before seeing off Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semis.
He won all eight frames of their third session to lead 16-8 before beating the ‘Rocket’ 17-12.
His victory over Ebdon in the final took him to a career best ranking of sixth and he goes into the tournament at the top of the latest standings, which become official after the Crucible event ends.
Dott said: “To be world no.1 would be the ultimate dream because then I’ll have done everything I’d want to do, I’d have no other goals.
“It’s only three years since I wanted to give up the game because I was on a losing run so it would be an amazing turnaround.”
This article first appeared in today's Scottish Sun