RICKY WALDEN starts his campaign to win the Dafabet Masters against the player responsible for one of the most disappointing defeats of his career.

Walden was 12-8 up against Barry Hawkins in the World Championship semi-finals last season, needing five more frames to reach his first Crucible final. But he was unable to convert this advantage and Hawkins came back to beat him 17-14 and earn a showpiece meeting with Ronnie O’Sullivan. 

Next week Walden and Hawkins go head-to-head again at Alexandra Palace in London – with Walden admitting he needs to be more ruthless this time round.

“The Crucible semi-final was a hard one,” he told Inside Snooker. “I felt I was close to playing my best stuff. My game was in good shape and I had some good moments in the tournament. So that was a tough one to take because I felt in control of the match.

“I was tired but I don’t think that’s the reason I lost the game. I don’t think I had that killer instinct to keep on top, to keep my foot on his head. I was in a good position and should have kept going. Maybe I was enjoying it too much out there and just sort of playing in the one table set up, thinking all was good and didn’t stay as professional as I could have.

“But at the same time it’s a tough match: the semi-finals of the World Championship. It was a big game for both of us and I think we both realised that.”

Walden, the world no.11, also had a good run at the recent UK Championship, reaching the semi-finals, as he had in 2011. However, the Chester man says that despite wins over Mark Williams, Ding Junhui and Mark Allen, he still wasn’t happy with the level of his performances.

“If I’m being totally honest I don’t feel I played very well throughout the tournament,” Walden said.

“I was just trying hard and making breaks at certain big points in games, which was getting me through.

“I’m just looking to get into a tournament and produce my best, which I haven’t seemed to have done. I’m getting better at scrapping out games and winning ugly but I’m not producing the standard I would like in major tournaments. It’s something I’m working towards but I can still take the positives out of a couple of UK semis and a world semi in recent years. I’m doing something right so hopefully I can improve that one more step.”

The Masters would be the perfect stage and it’s an event Walden has fond memories of watching, with one player in particular making an impact.

“Paul Hunter stood out for me,” Walden said. “There’s not that many players I like watching but I could watch him all day.

“Paul’s my main Masters memory – him getting in the balls and scoring in those finals he won. He was a great player.”

The second half of the season is cranking into life with players busier than ever. Walden, though, is one professional you won’t hear complaining about the increasingly hectic schedule.

“We’re very lucky to be in this position – whether we’re playing well or not. We still have a shot at a lot of tournaments and a lot of cash,” he said.

“When I first turned pro there were six tournaments in a season and I didn’t realise how bad it was at the time because when you first turn pro it’s all you want to do.

“Now we have 20-30. You might have to be away from home more but there’s a lot of tournaments, a lot to play for.

“My dad always tells me how fortunate I am to be in this situation. He’s the main reason why I don’t moan as much because he was pulling bricks for not much money a week, working crazy hours. He makes me realise how lucky I am.”

Photographs by Monique Limbos.