Luca Brecel falls to Crucible curse after stunning comeback from David Gilbert

Luca Brecel fell victim to the so-called ‘Crucible curse’ as qualifier David Gilbert reeled off the final four frames to claim a stunning 10-9 win over the defending champion on the opening day of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.

The Belgian became the 19th first-time champion to fail to defend his title at the famous venue as Gilbert, a semi-finalist in 2019, surged back level with three successive half-centuries then dispatched a nerveless 65 which proved enough to secure a famous win.

When Brecel shook hands with only one snooker required, it marked a stunning end to his kamikaze reign as champion, and signalled a swift change in fortunes for Gilbert who had won just one match at the Crucible in the four years since his run to the last four.

Cazoo World Snooker Championship 2024 – Day One – The Crucible
David Gilbert admitted an angry outburst at the interval turned his match against Luca Brecel around (Richard Sellers/PA)

“Even at 8-5 down I went into the dressing room with (my friend) Andy Lee and he had to dodge a few apples, bananas and biscuits flying around the room.

“I was angry, I was 8-5 down and I felt I should be ahead, but I did say to him, I’m getting chances and if I find my rhythm I could still win.”

A missed green off its spot when Brecel stood on the brink of victory at 9-8 proved one of many decisive moments in an engrossing match as Brecel mixed a display of stunning potting with wild shot choices and careless errors that constantly prevented him from making the decisive move.

Brecel had blasted two centuries and two more breaks over 70 in a quickfire opening session that he shaded 6-3, seemingly dispelling fears that he was returning to Sheffield woefully ill-prepared to avoid the fate of so many former champions.

A break of 115 helped Gilbert hang onto his opponent’s coat-tails but he failed to take a series of chances in the early stages of their resumption, and Brecel had one foot in the last 16 at 9-6 before Gilbert summoned his dramatic twist.

Luca Brecel plays from an awkward position on the side cushion as David Gilbert looks on
David Gilbert hit back from behind to beat Luca Brecel in Sheffield (Richard Sellers/PA)

“It was a good year, and now I can look forward to being a non-world champion again,” said Brecel.

“I’ve been wanting the season to end for a long time so I’m quite relieved. I don’t like the attention, when everyone says, ‘oh, it’s the world champion’. It’s not my thing.

Cazoo World Snooker Championship 2024 – Day One – The Crucible
Luca Brecel refused to blame illness for his stunning first-round defeat (Richard Sellers/PA)

Earlier, Judd Trump rode his luck to establish a 6-3 overnight lead over Hossein Vafaei.

Third seed Trump looked sharp and focused against the dangerous Iranian qualifier, but Vafaei was left to rue a series of missed opportunities ahead of their resumption on Sunday afternoon.

The 29-year-old could easily have headed into the mid-session interval with a 4-0 lead over the 2019 champion, but instead it was Trump who kept his nerve to carve a 3-1 advantage that he never looked likely to relinquish.

Cazoo World Snooker Championship 2024 – Day One – The Crucible
Judd Trump took control in his Crucible clash with Hossein Vafaei (Richard Sellers/PA)

The Scot, a two-time semi-finalist, made a storming start with breaks of 93 and 114 but showed his frustration as untimely errors scattered the rest of the session, before a nervy 55 in the ninth frame enabled him to keep in touch with the two-time former finalist.

Zhang Anda, the 11th seed, trails 5-2 after the opening session against qualifier Jak Jones, in a low-quality match that was hauled off two frames early due to slow play.

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –