The manner in which Ricky Walden clinched the International Championship today confirmed him as an authentic challenger for any tournament.
Walden had won two previous ranking titles but is rarely tipped as a likely tournament winner, even if when he does win one it isn’t a great surprise. He has been a little inconsistent at times and been involved in some matches which became bogged down.
But not this week. He was excellent throughout the event, contributing eight centuries, going for his shots, playing quickly and generally looking every inch a world class talent.
Walden led Mark Allen 7-5, saw this lead cancelled out but then upped his game to world class levels, playing three flawless frames. When he saw the winning line, rather than tensing up and inviting doubt to fester he sprinted for the tape. It was really impressive stuff from the Chester man, who lands his third ranking title in China following success at the 2008 Shanghai Masters and 2012 Wuxi Classic.
It’s one of those victories which will be popular in snooker circles because Walden is well liked and respected in the game.
Ricky is essentially how he seems: a nice bloke, very good at snooker and blessed with genuine humility. He doesn’t go out of his way to involve himself in controversy or pepper the wider world with his opinions. He supports the circuit with the same sort of have cue, will travel attitude as Stuart Bingham.
Many years ago when he first turned professional I wrote a story about him during one of the qualifiers which, due to some mix-up, ended up with him being called ‘Rocky Walden’ in the newspaper. However, this seems apt now considering the way he found inspiration late in the game, as Balboa often did, even in the later, terrible films.
Certainly Walden may have a few sequels in him. He turns 32 next week and has proved he can do it on the big stage. He brings home £125,000 and bags full of confidence.
Credit should go too for Allen, who was appearing on his fourth consecutive final of the season. The Northern Irishman once again conducted himself impeccably at the table, was sporting in defeat and of course won one of the best matches of the year with his 9-8 semi-final defeat of Mark Williams.
But it was Walden’s week and, if he continues this sort of form, there will surely be more trophies to follow. Next for him it’s the Dafabet Champion of Champions in Coventry. The tournament starts on Monday and he is in action on Friday, where his first round opponent will be a certain Mark Allen.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.