MIKE Dunn has saved his tour place in the grand manner in Beijing – by having his best ever run in a ranking tournament in his 23rd season as a professional.
The 42-year-old from Teesside had never previously got past the last 16 in a major tournament, yet here he was on Friday celebrating an unlikely 5-3 victory over world No2 Mark Selby to set up a semi-final against home favourite Ding Junhui.
It has been a tough road for Dunn in the past couple of seasons, and listening to him speak afterwards it was clear he had expected to lose his place this term – or at the very least was relying on fireworks in the World Championships qualifiers.
Those will now not be necessary for the man ranked No72 in the world coming in to the China Open, though he may be more dangerous animal in that process than this time a week ago.
Dunn’s attitude and preparation, if not by his own admission always the best throughout his time in the game, could hardly be faulted for this event. He stayed on after the Haikou World Open in China, and based himself at the hugely impressive CBSA Academy in Beijing.
And he has clearly made good use of the facilities and support staff, which are second to none. So much has Dunn enjoyed his prolonged stay that he has already said he will be accepting a coaching role in China and downscaling his playing calendar next season despite his success in staving off demotion.
Practically in tears, Dunn said: “Making people at least have to work for it has been the big difference to my game this season. I didn’t think I could outscore Mark or out-safety him, but I proved myself wrong.
“I was thinking during the match ‘you’ve done well to get this far’, and I have the World Championships qualifiers coming up which I was looking at to try and safeguard my place on the tour.
“I had a very poor year last year through illness and other things, and this year I have had my best ever season with this. I wanted to give everything I could, to what could have been my last season, and if I did that then I would have no regrets. I put everything into it.
“I wanted to practise as hard as I could, and I can’t do what I did as a teenager, after a few hours I get back pain so I have a rest and then go again later.
“I stayed in China for four weeks with the Haikou World Open, going on to play at the CBSA Academy in Beijing. And I can’t say enough for how they have looked after me there, they take a lot of credit for my week here. I look forward to the challenge of playing Ding in Beijing, but I will enjoy it.”
Dunn’s success in China comes after another player in his 40s - Gerard Greene - enjoyed his best ever run in a tournament at Preston in the PTC Grand Finals.
And it also showed the wafer-thin lines between success and failure. Dunn’s first match in Beijing last week? A final-black, 5-4 victory over Peter Lines.
Photographs by Monique Limbos