Snooker: King begins with win in Belfast
PUBLISHED: 08:12 21 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:12 21 November 2017
PA Wire/PA Images
Seeing his face plastered across the tournament posters brought the Dafabet Northern Ireland Open memories flooding back for Mark King.
It was in Belfast where personal history was made for the Romford cueman exactly 12 months ago, lifting his maiden ranking title 25 years after first entering the scene.
So, given a chance to return, with the top-seed status and a trophy to defend for the first time, there was little surprise King was keen to soak up the entire occasion.
While his first-round, post-midnight victory over Matthew Bolton didn’t match the emotion and tears of the penniless potter of 2016, the importance was there for all to see at the Waterfront Hall, King easing his way into the last 64 with a 4-1 victory.
A second-round match against Ashley Hugill awaits on Wednesday but, for now at least, the 45-year-old allowed himself to revel in just a little bit of nostalgia.
“It’s brilliant to be back, Ireland always seems to be a place I do well in even before last year so I was a little bit nervous before that first frame,” said the Grove-based cueman.
“As you come in, my face is up on the posters next to Ronnie O’Sullivan and it’s a nice feeling, you’re not just one of the ‘numpties’ as Ronnie would say!
“I’m still champion for another couple of days at least, so let’s see how it goes.
“All the tournaments this season have been normal, but the week before this one I was becoming very nervous and excited, but I’m feeling pretty good in myself.
“Since 2015, where I started my game again from scratch, it’s been tough and I’ve worked hard and done well in the past year and a half, but now I just need to keep working harder.”
King will undoubtedly have tougher tests if he is to defend his crown after facing up against Australian Bolton, still yet to win a match at a ranking event this season.
But the Essex potter didn’t have things all his own way, being pegged back to 1-1 in the early stages.
A break of 50 got him motoring however, taking three successive frames to round off the contest with a 4-1 win, just his second in the past five ranking tournaments he has entered.
The world No.21 welcomes Hugill on Wednesday, confident he still has plenty more in the tank if his Belfast return takes him to the latter stages of the week.
“I felt like I cued alright, he slowed the game down a little bit and he was plodding round the table, but I managed to dig in and felt pretty good out there,” he added.
“I missed a couple and the table had some odd speed at times, but it’s just nice to come here and get the first game under my belt.
“Now, I feel like I’m ready to crack on. I feel like I can still give more, can still play more attacking snooker to open the balls up more and the breaks will come.
“First-round matches are always a banana skin, particularly being the defending champion, I feel that added pressure but now that’s out of the way I feel properly involved in the competition.”
*Watch the Northern Ireland Open LIVE on Eurosport, Eurosport Player and Quest with Colin Murray and daily studio analysis with Neal Foulds.