GARY WILSON’s 6-5 defeat of Ding Junhui in the China Open semi-finals on Saturday ranks as one of the season’s shock results given who he was playing, where he was playing him and the stage of the tournament.
The Beijing crowd had gathered hoping – and probably expecting – Ding to ease into the final against Mark Selby. Instead, it was world no.56 Wilson who progressed to his first ranking final, holding his nerve at the end in what was the biggest match of his career so far.
Whatever happens in the final, Wilson rockets up the rankings and earns a day to remember, taking on the reigning world champion over 19 frames. The winner picks up £85,000 and the runner-up £35,000, a substantial payday for Wilson win or lose.
His story has been one of persistence: a former world junior champion, his early attempts at the tour when there weren’t many events in which to play did not go so well. He turned to taxi driving but the meter is still running on his snooker career.
I’m not sure anyone would have predicted this run pre-tournament, but so what? So much modern media time is spent treating sport like it is great science whereas a large part of it is actually chaos. Maintaining control amid the chaos is the key to success.
Few do this better than Selby, who won a pivotal seventh frame on the final black against Kurt Maflin, which proved to be the turning point.
Their semi-final was of an excellent standard, with two centuries apiece, but this frame was low in quality and in many ways it made it the most important. Maflin had a chance at a thin cut to force a re-spotted black but missed and after Selby sank it he had a real spring in his step.
He starts favourite of course for the final but Ding was also the favourite against Wilson, who has provided many other players a little further down the ranking list with some inspiration.
In fact, this is now the third ranking final during 2015 to feature a first time finalist. The three Ws – Ben Woollaston, Michael White and now Gary Wilson – are proving that it is possible to come through if you play well enough and believe in yourself.
Selby remains a stubborn and experienced opponent with a big match pedigree but Wilson has come this far and needs to go out, be positive, try and enjoy it and take the chances that come his way. If he does, his fairytale week could have a very happy ending.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.