RICKY WALDEN reached his first Dafabet Masters quarter-final with a dramatic comeback victory over Barry Hawkins at Alexandra Palace on Wednesday night.
And the 31-year-old from Chester gained some measure of revenge over Hawkins for a painful World Championship semi-final loss last year by reeling off the last four frames for a 6-5 win.
World No6 Hawkins got off to a flier, forging 3-0 ahead - and that could and probably should have been 4-0 at the mid-session interval, with Walden pinching frame four.
And despite not being at his best world No11 Walden, who will now take on world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan for a place in the last four on Friday, somehow kept his title hopes alive.
It was a tough one to take for Crucible finalist Hawkins, 34, as he somehow found a way to lose a match that had always looked there for the taking.
Walden, 31, said: “My dad is not very well and in hospital at the moment, so this one is for him and I hope it was a tonic for him. I am not actually sure what happened and what prompted the turnaround.
“Barry had a lot of luck early on and that was keeping me down, but I stuck in there and got a chance in the decider. I never really felt it was going for me, and when you win a match like that it is just a huge relief.
“It should be a great match against Ronnie, it will be a packed house and we have had some good games in the past.”
Hawkins, who has still not won a match at the Masters in four attempts, said: “I have done really well to lose that one. I was a long way ahead and playing really well, but I didn’t have too many clear-cut chances to finish it off.
“But then in the last frame there I have l have played the worst shot I have ever played in snooker on the green when I had a great chance to win the match. I just need to forget about this match as soon as possible, it is very hard to take after being 5-2 up.”
The semi-final at last year’s World Championship between these two saw Walden see the huge prize of a showpiece against O’Sullivan slip away, as from 12-8 up he saw Hawkins win nine of the next 11 frames to seal a 17-14 victory. This time the roles were reversed.
While it was a devastating loss for Walden, Hawkins went on to do himself justice against the Rocket, pushing him as hard as anyone in the tournament before losing 18-12 – and he was off to a fast start on Wednesday night.
Neither player had previously reached the last eight of the event for the top 16 only, and Hawkins showed his intent to be the first to do so as breaks of 85, 57 and then a magnificent break of 132 put him firmly in charge and 3-0 ahead.
Had Kent’s Hawkins potted the final brown and completed a clearance in frame four, the match might have been all but over – but Walden profited to at least keep himself in with a sniff going in to the mid-session interval trailing 3-1.
A fluked red from Hawkins led to Walden shaking his head in disbelief – and he then had to sit and watch the left-hander take full advantage with another century, this time 112.
The Chester professional knocked in a century of his own, but was left on the brink of defeat when Hawkins grabbed the next frame to be three up with four to play. A break of 73 saw Walden claw one back, though he was made to work as Hawkins chased two snookers for several minutes.
After missing the green to win frame nine in more straightforward fashion Walden closed to 5-4 adrift on a re-spotted black – and 53 gruelling, draining minutes later he levelled the match before keeping his head in the decider.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.