A PERSONAL trainer had Stuart Bingham pushing tyres around in Wickford at the weekend as the nice guy from Vange bids to get in shape to end his greatest ever season on a high.
The 35-year-old has signed up for a gruelling Bootcamp in an attempt to make sure he’s in the best possible condition ahead of his World Championship opening round showdown with the legendary Stephen Hendry at the Crucible on Saturday.
“I did it at Bromfords School on Saturday and I can’t left my arms over my head at the moment!,” said Bingham. “They had me pushing tyres around the floor, doing press ups and crawls – it was a killer.
“Up until now the heaviest thing I have lifted over the past 20 years has been my cue!
“It left me feeling a bit stiff and I’m just hoping I feel a bit better for Saturday.
“But it is important to prepare as well as you can mentally and physically for the big games, so hopefully it will help.”
And any advantage Bingham can get will be necessary as he prepares to face seven-time world champion Hendry.
The first encounter signalled Bingham’s arrival in the game as he shocked the watching world by beating Hendry 10–7 in the first round of the 2000 World Championship.
At the time Bingham was ranked a lowly 97 in the world; Hendry – the game’s greatest-ever-player – was the reigning world champion.
Now 12 years later things are slightly different as Bingham’s spot at the snooker’s stellar event was guaranteed courtesy of his top 16 ranking, while Hendry had to qualify as he prepares to make his 27th consecutive Crucible appearance.
Bingham said: “It’s a good draw. He’s a legend so I’m really looking forward to it.
“Before I won in Australia last year, that win over Hendry was the highlight of my career.
“Incredibly that is the only time I’ve ever played him once, and someone said to me on Twitter that Hendry has been waiting 12 years for this game.
“But I’ll be ready for him and if I play to the best of my ability I know I can progress.”
Bingham goes into the tournament on the back of what he happily describes as “easily the best year of my life”.
The arrival of his first son Shae seven months ago, coupled with his happy home life with finacee Michelle and their daughter Tegan Herbing, has coincided with the most successful year in his 16-year career.
He pulled off a stunning comeback against the then world number one Mark Williams to become the Australian Goldfields Open champion last July.
He said: “I won in Australia five weeks before he Shae was born, and I’ve had a smile on my face ever since.
“It just changes your outlook on things really and it helps you to stay positive and focused no matter how bad things can seem sometimes.”
Trailing 5-8 in front of a packed crowd at the Bendigo Stadium, the former Barstable pupil roared back to win 9-8 in a classic encounter last summer.
It put him in the top 16 for the first time ever and guaranteed him places at top events including The Masters and the UK Championships, as well as a place on the forthcoming lucrative Premier League circuit.
He said: “That win in Australia just meant everything to me. It was so enjoyable and they even made me an honorary Aussie!
“And it was a way of paying back all the support from my family and friends and my mum and dad who have supported me through thick and thin.
“I watch the video back now and it gives me goose pimples. That’s how much it meant to me.
“All those years when I played while I was at school and then had to get the bus to practice at Rayleigh before I could drive – it made all that mean something.
“And it was a way to answer back all those people who’ve knocked me and said I wouldn’t make it.
“I think I was something like only the 48th person to ever win a ranking tournament. So when I look at it like that, I just feel honoured to be in that company really.”
But despite some promising positions in the early round matches since, Bingham’s failed to reach the last eight in a major tournament since that win Down Under.
And he admits the season has not gone as well as he would have liked.
“It’s been a bit up and down as I’ve got used to being in the top 16,” he said. “I’ve moved to a new club, which maybe has not helped, but I’ve now settled at Rayleigh so the future looks good.
“And it’s tough being in the top 16, and it has taken a bit of getting used to.
“I think in five of the tournaments I’ve been draw against players who were previously in the top 16 and in the other one in Haikou where it looked like it could be a bit easier against Martin Holt – and he beat me 5-0.
“And I guess it just sums up how my season has gone really that I have drawn Hendy, the legend, in the first round at the Crucible.”
Bingham’s best-of-19 frame match with Hendry gets underway at 2.30pm on Saturday. They’ll be a session on Saturday evening and will conclude at 7pm on Sunday if necessary.