In one of the biggest snooker shocks in recent years, Ricky Walden won his maiden ranking title by beating Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-8 in the final of the Roewe Shanghai Masters.
O’Sullivan is currently snooker’s dominant force and was bidding to win a third consecutive ranking tournament. But he proved second-best to an inspired performance from Walden, who had never been beyond the quarter-finals of a ranking event before fulfilling his snooker dreams this week.
The 25-year-old, who lives in Bagiltt in North Wales but considers himself English, lifted the trophy and accepted a cheque for £52,000 at the Shanghai Grand Stage.
World No 1 and 888.com World Snooker Champion O’Sullivan may feel that he will never get a better chance to win three ranking events on the bounce – a feat last achieved by Stephen Hendry in 1993. Though he showed a few flashes of brilliance during the contest, O’Sullivan made more unforced errors than he had in the 14 matches of his winning streak put together.
He managed to keep his focus throughout the contest, battling against slices of bad luck, kicks at inopportune moments, fraught coversations with referee Terry Camilleri and an opponent who wouldn’t lie down. In the end, it was just a bad day in the office for the Rocket.
Walden showed great promise when he won the world under-21 title in 2001, but did not climb the rankings as quickly as expected. He has a superb record in the qualifiers at Prestatyn, just a few miles from his home, but struggled to replicate that form at venues. He may not have to worry about trips to Pontin’s next season, as he has leapt to No 17 in the provisional rankings and must now target an official top 16 berth.
He was grouped in the same 2000/01 Young Players of Distinction class with Shaun Murphy and Stephen Maguire, and has now repeated their achievements by coming from nowhere to win a ranking tournament. The world No 35 is the second consecutive player ranked outside the top 16 to win this tournament, following Dominic Dale’s success last year.
And no one can argue that Walden has not done it the hard way. To win the tournament he had to beat arguably the three best players ever – Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and O’Sullivan – as well as two of the top rising stars in Neil Robertson and Mark Selby.
Trailing 5-4 after the first session, Walden levelled up immediately as the concluding session got underway with a break of 95. He miscued early in the next when attempting a red with the rest and O’Sullivan regained the lead with a run of 108.
Walden recovered to 6-6 by winning the 12th frame with 30 and 48. Frame 13 started with a series of errors from both players. When O’Sullivan missed the pink to a centre pocket, Walden made a handy 48 then sealed the frame when O’Sullivan missed the black off the last red.
O’Sullivan hit back in the next with an 82 to level at 7-7. But early in the 15th he missed an easy red and let his opponent in for a run of 59. Walden then enjoyed a stroke of fortune as he fluked the third-last red in escaping from a snooker and added the black to edge ahead.
A scrappy 16th frame went the way of Walden as he closed in on victory at 9-7. He led 30-23 in frame 17 when he missed the simplest of reds to a centre pocket. O’Sullivan capitalised with a 43, calmly slotting the last red along the side cushion when an error could have cost him the match.
But any hopes of a fight-back for O’Sullivan were soon quashed as Walden needed only one chance to seal victory, making a superb 105 to finish the match in style.