Baize Watch: Episode 4

Hawkins Back On Track

Barry Hawkins reached the final of the ManBetX Welsh Open in Cardiff with a 6-4 win over Noppon Saengkham, then spoke movingly about the tragedy which has affected his life and career over the past year.

Despite a late fight back from Thailand’s Saengkham, world number eight Hawkins eventually got the better of an opponent ranked 50 places below him to set up a final meeting on Sunday with John Higgins or Gary Wilson. Victory for 38-year-old Hawkins would give him his fourth career ranking title and first since the 2017 World Grand Prix.

The past year has been a tough one for Hawkins on and off the table, following the death of his brother-in-law. “Last April I had a belated birthday party with the family after the World Championship,” he explained after today’s match. “For the previous six months my sister’s husband had been suffering from depression. We all thought he was getting back to normal.

“That evening he was dropped at home by my dad. Sadly he took his own life. He felt like there was no way out for him. We didn’t see it coming at all. I was with him for an hour while the paramedics were working on him. I have never experienced anything like that and I wouldn’t want to go through it again. It absolutely destroyed me for about six months.

“I played snooker but I really wasn’t thinking about the game, my mind was elsewhere. It was very tough for my family and especially my sister and her two twins, who are eight years old now. It was devastating, so snooker had to take a back seat. In the last few months I have been trying to find my form again. I feel better about myself and we’re moving on.  We’ll never forget what happened but at least we are dealing with it now.”

So far this season he had failed to progress beyond the last 16 of a ranking event, until this week. At the Motorpoint Arena the Londoner has shown signs of a return to his best form, winning six matches to reach his sixth ranking final.

Hawkins also keeps alive his chances of qualifying for the lucrative Players Championship in Llandudno later this month. Only the £70,000 top prize in Cardiff would earn him a spot.

A scrappy opening frame today went the way of Hawkins, then his opponent, who was competing in the semi-finals of a ranking event for the first time, levelled with a break of 63. Former World Championship finalist Hawkins fired runs of 57 and 94 to lead 3-1, and shared the next two frames to make it 4-2.

A drawn-out seventh frame, lasting 38 minutes, came down to the colours and Hawkins cleared from yellow to pink to move within one of victory. Saengkham, age 25, fought back impressively as breaks of 57 and 139 saw him close to 5-4. And the Thai had chances early in frame ten, but twice missed a red to a top corner pocket. His second error proved decisive as Hawkins compiled an excellent run of 63 to book his final spot.

Hawkins added: “I feel a bit subdued because it was such a long match, we both missed a lot of easy balls. It was hard battle. But once it sinks in I will be proud of myself because I’m in the final.

“I didn’t do much wrong from 5-2 to 5-4. In the last frame luckily he missed a couple of easy balls and I made a good break. If it had gone 5-5 I would have got twitchy.”