BEN Woollaston had barely sealed his place in a first ever ranking semi-final when world champion, world No1 and fellow Leicester pro Mark Selby was sending warm congratulations.

The 27-year-old Woollaston scrapped his way past Gary Wilson 5-2 at the BetVictor Welsh Open in a match made all the more tense by the realisation from both players the exact nature of the opportunity before them.

But it was world No36 Woollaston who prevailed, setting up a last-four clash with home favourite and twice winner Mark Williams – and making sure he will be in the field for the new World Grand Prix in Llandudno for good measure.

It has been quite a week for Woollaston, who has also successfully coped with the distraction of seeing wife and leading official Tatiana refereeing often in the same arena and within eyeshot.

Woollaston’s previous best run had been to the quarter-finals of the PTC Grand Finals two years ago, and Selby’s text, recognising the importance of the win to his friend and rival, read simply: “Awesome mate, now just keep your head and relax in the semi-final.”

There was disappointment for Wilson, the former cab driver from Tyneside now making his mark on the tour, more so after not doing himself justice on the night – but he was left with the consolation of a best ever run himself in a ranking event.

Woollaston had been understandably emotional when qualifying for the World Championships for the first time two years ago, insisting that is was payback both financially and emotionally for his mum who had helped him so much to pursue his dream.

But on Friday night he insisted this achievement meant more to him, reaching the last four of a major ranking tournament for the first time and being especially pleased that it had come on home soil with more chance of family and friends being able to attend.

He said: “It is a special moment for me. And I would have to say this slightly beats qualifying for the Crucible for the first time. That was also special, but this isn’t just getting somewhere, it is getting to the semi-finals of a ranking event.

“And also it is in the UK. Even though the prize money can be as big or bigger in China I do think a lot of the players still love to do well in the British tournaments. It’s a bit being more likely to have tyour friends and family along, and some home comforts to keep you relaxed.

“It wasn’t the best of games in my quarter-final, neither I nor Gary played particularly well. I think we both knew what a great opportunity it was to reach a first semi-final. In a way I would have been more relaxed had I been playing Neil Robertson, who Gary beat in the previous round. Both of us would clearly have taken playing the other for a place in the semi-finals.

“I know I will be taking on all of Wales in the semi-final against Mark Williams on Saturday, but I don’t mind about that. I love it, and I will be trying my best to upset them.”


Photograph by Monique Limbos