In the biggest match of his life so far, Hawkins rose to the occasion in the closing stages by coming from 12-8 down to win nine of the last 11 frames. Steadiness under pressure has been his greatest asset over the past 18 months, allowing him to make giant strides forward in his career. He is now guaranteed a cheque for £125,000, three times more than his previous biggest pay-day, and will earn double that if he can find a way to bring down the Rocket. He faces O'Sullivan over 35 frames tomorrow and Monday for snooker's most coveted title.
The 34-year-old from Ditton in Kent, ranked 14th in the world, was placed in the toughest quarter of the draw and had to overcome world number one Mark Selby and Chinese ace Ding Junhui to get to the semis. Nerves affected him in the first two sessions against Walden and his top break was just 36 in the first 14 frames, but he managed to stay in touch and then got stronger as the match progressed. His quiet determination and ability focus on each shot whatever the circumstances will aid his task as he aims to cause a huge upset by beating O'Sullivan, who is rated a 1/7 odds on favourite by Betfair.
Hawkins failed to win a match in his first five appearances at the Crucible, but that was before his work with Terry Griffiths helped give him the self belief he needed to make the most of his excellent all-round game. In January last year he won his biggest title to date at the one-frame Shoot-Out, then surpassed that in July by claiming his first ranking title at the Australian Goldfields Open. Now Hawkins has the chance to get his name engraved on the most famous trophy of all.
After winning the last four frames of this morning's session to make it 12-12, Hawkins started tonight's concluding session with a break of 66 before missing a red to a centre pocket. Walden made a fine 50 clearance to force a respotted black, but made a mess of a safety shot and Hawkins potted the black to go ahead for the first time. Walden made a 56 in the next but it came down to the colours and the Chester man missed the final pink, allowing left-hander Hawkins to pot it for 14-12.
Growing in confidence, Hawkins added the next two frames with runs of 60 and 79 to go four up with five to play. Wuxi Classic champion Walden continued to battle and dominated the next two to close to 16-14. But Walden suffered a stroke of misfortune in frame 31 as he knocked a red in when splitting the pack off the blue on 11, and Hawkins grasped the chance with a break of 36 which proved enough.
"I am stunned, it just does not feel real," said Hawkins, one of the most popular characters on the circuit. "I felt surprisingly calm. When I speak to everybody back home it will definitely sink in. The phone is back in the hotel. I expect it will be on fire.
"Ricky was by far the better player in the first two sessions, I only hung in there by sheer determination. Then I managed to find a bit of form in the third session and to win the last frame this morning to go 12-12 was massive. I would not have won that match a few years ago, I would have given up.
"My head is just spinning. I have put in so much hard work and had so many tough matches. I was giving 100 percent on every ball.
"In the final I will just go out there in the frame of mind that I can win. If I don't then there is no point in me even turning up. I don't want to think about who I am playing. I will play each ball one at a time and if I can play at the top of my game then who knows.
"Everybody loves an underdog and I was a massive outsider before the start of the tournament. Hopefully people will warm to me and the neutrals are on my side. Ronnie is an unbelievable player but I have to just try and concentrate on what I am doing.
"Terry is a big help, just to talk to in between sessions. He has been there and done that so he knows what I am going through. We don't talk tactics during the match, he just tells me to focus and concentrate on what I am doing. He says just concentrate on your pre-shot routine.
"I have got nothing to lose, but there is still pressure. I don't mind that - if there is pressure it shows that you care and that you want to win."
Walden said: "Barry started to play a lot better towards the end of the match. It was a scrappy game but Barry deserved to win. I just needed to get some scoring going and I never seemed to do that when I needed to.
"I thought if I could get back to 16-15 then I would be favourite for the match but I just could not get that frame on the board.
"I've got to the semi-finals of the World, I have done the semi-finals of the UK and won a couple of ranking events so I am not too far away. I am improving and getting better. I will sit down over the next couple of days and look at things but at the moment things are just a bit sore.
"Barry has got every chance. His game is so solid you have to work for every point. You have got to play good safety and you have got to pot long balls. If Barry gets off to a good start then who knows."
Ball by ball scoring and results from tournaments