ON KYREN WILSON’S 18th birthday he undertook a charity sky dive from 13,000 feet, which points to a courageous streak. In snooker, there isn’t a parachute and there are many times when players fall flat on their faces. But at the Shanghai Masters, Wilson has landed safely in snooker’s winners’ circle, coming through the pack to secure at 23 his first ranking title with a 10-9 defeat of Judd Trump.
He did it playing assured, attacking snooker blended with a mature and effective tactical approach which suggests he already possesses a considerable all round game.
Wilson’s Shanghai adventure began in Barnsley a few weeks ago. He beat Vinnie Calabrese and Mark King before coming from 4-3 down to edge Anthony McGill 5-4 in the final qualifying round. He only received his visa to travel to China on the day he was due to fly.
He had to play a wildcard and then beat two very experienced campaigners in Joe Perry and Michael Holt before his thrilling 5-4 black ball defeat of home favourite Ding Junhui in the quarter-finals.
Wilson was far too strong for a well below par Mark Allen in the semis but Trump started the final as favourite given his experience at the top level and the titles to his name.
In fact, he was always chasing the game. Wilson’s strength is that he played the sort of game Trump so often employs more effectively than the world no.7.
At no point did he seem phased by the occasion. He continued to go for his shots when he should have been feeling intense pressure. He kept Trump on the back foot during the first session and opened a 6-3 lead.
This became 8-4, reduced to 8-7 as Trump produced his best spell of the final. At 9-9, Trump again would have been fancied but Wilson made a flawless 75 to kill the match off in style.
This was a huge surprise given that Wilson’s best performance in the five years since he first turned professional was to reach the quarter-finals of the 2013 Shanghai Masters.
He did qualify for the Crucible in 2014 but to storm through the field in this way is a remarkable performance and brings with it significant rewards.
The £85,000 first prize is not that far off doubling his career prize money. He receives a place in the Champion of Champions event and rises from 54th to 22nd in the world rankings.
This is exactly the sort of result snooker needed: a new, young face breaking through on the big stage, beating top players to win a significant title. The rush of young talent winning trophies has slowed to a trickle in recent times, with older stagers having their day instead.
Wilson, though, has proved it can be done with some belief, momentum and, of course, top quality snooker.
He thoroughly earned this title and can challenge for more if he keeps his feet on the ground. A top 16 place and possible Masters inclusion must be immediate ambitions.
When Trump broke through in similar fashion at the 2011 China Open in Beijing he nearly won the next event as well, losing 18-15 to John Higgins in the World Championship.
He also discovered in the seasons to follow that other players were suddenly trying harder against him, seeing him now as a threat. It’s a compliment to Wilson that he will receive the same treatment.
There’s not much time for reflection in the snooker world these days. Wilson will be back in action at the International Championship qualifiers in Barnsley in ten days’ time but not as just another member of the snooker pack. He is now a champion and nobody would begrudge him some celebrations before he gets back on the baize.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.