GARY Wilson admitted that reaching a first major final with a thrilling China Open win over home favourite Ding Junhui was “by far the best moment of my career”.
The former cab driver from Wallsend pulled off a brilliant 6-5 victory in Beijing over defending champion Ding after the world No4 had twice battled back from the brink.
World No56 Wilson, 29, led 5-3 and then 72-0 in the decider with Ding at that time needing four snookers. China’s No1, the defending champion, got 15 points back with the help of a free ball before a relieved Geordie sank the last red.
And Wilson now takes on world champion and world No1 Mark Selby on Sunday for the £85,000 first prize over the best of 19 frames.
Wilson is giving professional snooker a second crack after falling off tour nine years ago – and famously drove a taxi on Tyneside for years to make ends meet with his snooker dream on hold.
But breaks of 68, 50, 60, 68, 70 and then 72 in the decider saw him guaranteed at least £35,000 for getting to the showpiece – almost trebling his season’s earnings even if he loses to Selby.
Wilson said: “Of course that is my best moment in the game by a mile, and it really hasn’t sunk in yet – but I know just getting to a first ranking final is a huge moment in my career.
“My heart was in my mouth as Ding started coming back at the end, he laid some incredible snookers, and I hit a good few even before I started missing them and then left a free ball.
“I got a bit scared as it would have been horrible to lose from so far ahead – but I was proud of the way I rallied at 5-5 after seeing a 5-3 lead disappear in the biggest match of my life.
“I told myself before the match I would go for my shots if I got chances, and luckily most of them went in today.
“I am going out to win tomorrow against Mark, but getting to the final is already an achievement in itself. The same as today, I will go out and try and enjoy it.”
Ding’s attempt to get the four snookers saw all of his ability, and occasionally questioned fighting spirit, there for everyone to see. It was a superb effort that fell only just short.
And had Wilson lost from that position it is hard to judge how he would have recovered, or what damage it might have done. Happily for him, we will never know.
Despite their disappointment the Chinese media took to Wilson. They liked his humility and humble demeanour, and down-to-earth nature – qualities much valued in this country.
Presciently Wilson said after his quarter-final that though he was delighted with the results taking him into unknown territory, he felt there was “more to come out”.
How right he was, and what a time to show your best – in the biggest game of your life, on such a huge stage.
Ding was generous in defeat. “Gary played really well,” he said. “Of course I am disappointed and I nearly pulled it back. I gave it everything but he played very well given it was his first time at this stage of a tournament.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos