SNOOKER star Ross Muir is four matches away from realising his “dream” of playing at the World Championships.

The qualifiers for the annual tournament get under way tomorrow (Monday), with 16 players coming through four gruelling rounds to join the sport’s greats, including Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, in the main draw.

Muir, who received an invite to qualify for the tournament, will face teenager Zhao Jianbo in a best-of-11 contest, with the winner going on to face Jimmy Robertson, who has reached the main draw on four occasions.

Muir, 25, said: “It’s the pinnacle of the sport. To be at the Crucible is the absolute top of the sport.

“There have been many, many great players who have not actually qualified for the Crucible. It is a major feat to even just be playing there and these guys that do it year in year out; it’s phenomenal.

“It would be amazing and certainly a dream of mine to compete at the Crucible again. I have played there in the Junior Pot Black but as a professional it would be great.”

Muir and Jianbo have never faced each other before but the Musselburgh man stressed his opponent would not have been given a two-year card on the World Snooker Tour if he did not have talent.

In contrast, Muir, who was on the global tour for six years between 2013 and 2019, is one of the amateurs invited to take part.

At the beginning of last year, he reached the semi-finals of the WSF (World Snooker Federation) Open in Malta and also reached the last four of the European Snooker Championship in Portugal.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has meant he has not played a competitive game in the last 12 months, with even competitive practice off the table.

He said: “It’s certainly an unusual feeling but I’m enjoying practising on my own.

“I have learned to make it a bit more fun and I can see my level is there.”

Last year, Muir defeated Si Jiahui in the first round of qualifying before being edged out by Ashley Carty.

Muir had led 2-0 and the scores were locked at 4-4 before Carty took the next two frames and went on to reach the main draw.

The former Musselburgh Grammar School pupil recalled the match and said the score could easily have been 6-4 in his favour.

He said: “There was nothing in the match.

“It was a very close match and I can recall two moments that really swung it. It was just where the ball rolled on the day that was the difference.”

Qualifying for the main draw of the World Championships in Sheffield is no mean feat, with the qualifiers alone featuring former world champions Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty, Graeme Dott and 12-times World Women’s Snooker Champion Reanne Evans.

Muir added: “I was really surprised to see Stuart Bingham’s name among those in qualifying.

“He won the Masters last year and was a world champion as well a couple of years ago.

“It is very, very tough to qualify and if you qualify then you have certainly earned it.

“There is not a way to win a match luckily.

“They are long matches and you have got to really be on it to qualify.

“You need to be on it for the full nine days – it is as simple as that.”