Whatever expectations of a fifth world title Peter Gilchrist had were immediately tempered on the first day of last month's IBSF World Billiards Championships in Bangalore, India.
The 48-year-old suffered a shock first career loss to India's Siddharth Parikh. It might have been only the round-robin stage but for the Middlesbrough native, who became a Singapore citizen in 2006, it was a rude shock.
The funk continued in his second match as he began poorly against Austria's Ben Judge before recovering to win. The talent that had delivered four previous world crowns eventually resurfaced, as Gilchrist outlasted former world champion Rupesh Shah in a marathon 51/2-hour semi-final before overwhelming Sourav Kothari 1,500-617 in a one-sided long-format final. A match usually lasts from 21/2 to three hours.
That feat has earned him the nod as The Straits Times' Star of the Month for December. The award is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year accolade launched in 2008. Both are backed by F&N's 100Plus.
Speaking in a phone interview from England where he is visiting family, Gilchrist said: "It was a strange tournament. It felt like I was stuck in second gear for most of it and started to play better only in the semi-final when I was almost 500 points behind.
"I definitely wasn't at my best, so to win ugly is very satisfying."
WAKING UP IN TIME
It felt like I was stuck in second gear for most of it and started to play better only in the semi-final when I was almost 500 points behind.
PETER GILCHRIST, on his initial struggles in Bangalore last month before coming good.
At his finest, the world No. 2 - who enjoys entertaining his friends with magic tricks - is a wizard on the green baize. He owns the billiards break world record of 1,346 and is one of only three men in the past 50 years to set 1,000 breaks. He has done it twice - in 2007 and 2014.
Cuesports Singapore president Christopher Chuah hailed Gilchrist's contributions to the sport and to his adopted country. Besides his five SEA Games gold medals and two Asian Games bronzes, Gilchrist has been a role model for the Republic's national team.
Chuah, who has known him for eight years, added: "Certain qualities about Peter stand out. His sheer concentration and discipline under pressure. He never rushes and mulls over his strategy before making the right shot."
This is Gilchrist's second Star of the Month award. The first came after he captured the 2013 World Championship, a seminal moment in his career as it ended a 12-year wait from his last title in 2001.
The 2014 Singapore Sportsman of the Year recalled: "Before that win (in 2013), I was so frustrated that I was ready to give up and stop playing. I was coaching then so I didn't have the time to train.
"Here I was, a former world champion and I kept getting thrashed in whatever tournament I entered by other players who I knew I could beat. I couldn't sleep and kept thinking about those losses."
Becoming a Sports Excellence scholarship holder - which offers financial support to selected national athletes and allows them to train full-time - in 2013 provided the platform for Gilchrist to recover the form that saw him become a world champion in 1994 at the age of 26.
ST sports editor Lee Yulin praised his longevity in the sport and said: "It is incredibly hard to reach the pinnacle of any sport and for Peter to have done so five times across more than 20 years is an amazing feat. His latest victory also showed the kind of athlete he is, someone who doesn't give up and keeps fighting."
Gilchrist has watched old videos of himself playing and chuckled at the memory. He said: "I can't believe how poor a player I was in my 20s. My shot selection, my tactics, everything was bad.
"There's still improvement needed but I'm definitely a more solid player now. This game is like chess and with experience I've learnt all the moves."
He once proclaimed that billiard players hit their peak only around their 50th birthday.
Gilchrist it seems, is well ahead of schedule.