A stronger body and a stronger mind has Ricky Walden feeling confident as this year’s World Snooker Championship takes centre stage in Sheffield, writes Ross Lawson.
Chester’s Walden is back at the Crucible Theatre for the first time since 2018, reaching the main event thanks to qualifying victories over Peter Lines and Ryan Day.
A first-round match with 16th seed Anthony McGill now lies in store, with the 38-year-old in an upbeat mood on and off the table having seen his troublesome back issues seemingly become a thing of the past.
"The physical side of things is all good, I've been good for around 12 months so it'll be nice to go there fulling fit,” said Walden, who plays against McGill on Sunday, live on Eurosport.
"I'm running a lot more, my mind feels a lot stronger for that so I feel like I'm on the way back.
"I feel like my work has been good, I've got my own little practice base and I've been putting the hours in on the table and being doing a lot of fitness work as well.
"I feel as though I couldn't have tried any harder building up to this and thankfully it's paid off now.
"I've been away for a few years, I'm just grateful to play at whatever stage of the week.
"I think my chances are as good as ever, you've just got to stick in - the first round is a big one, you're playing the seeded player and the nerves are flying in that first round.
"If you can settle well and get off to a good start then there's no reason you can't have a good run there.”
Walden has a mixed bag of history at the World Championship, only progressing beyond the second round in one of his previous seven appearances.
But that anomaly was certainly notable in 2013, reaching the semi-finals before falling to Barry Hawkins 17-14 in Sheffield.
A repeat of that performance is not out of the question but just having a chance to play at the Crucible, with fans in attendance, is worth shouting about for the three-time ranking event winner.
"It's brilliant, it's been a long couple of years not being at the Crucible, so to be back playing there is going to be a good thing,” he added.
"I've played well there, enjoyed a good run to the semi-finals and just got pipped there, that was a sore one but it's the best place to play when you're playing well and I enjoy playing there.
"Having fans should be amazing, it's been a long season for us all playing behind closed doors, so the fact we can have some spectators will be a real bonus.
"We've just got to be grateful that we're able to play. People have got different jobs where they can't do anything, so the fact we can have a few spectators in and play on TV is pretty good for us.
“Hopefully we can put a show on for everybody.”
Watch the World Snooker Championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from April 17- May 3