IT WAS well past midnight when Rod Lawler potted the final pink ball in Berlin’s Tempodrom to clinch, incredibly, a first full ranking tournament semi-final place since 1996.
For 24 years the 42-year-old from Liverpool has battled away on the tour, and it was entirely appropriate that one of his best career moments was witnessed by wife Jo, as the hard-fought 5-4 win over Mark Davis at 12.15am saw their city break extended.
Lawler, though winner of a PTC tournament in 2012, a first professional title, had not even reached the last eight of a full ranking event for more than a decade, a defeat to Stephen Hendry in Cardiff.
But on Saturday he will walk out in the evening to one of the best receptions snooker has to offer to play world No4 Judd Trump in front of an enthusiastic sell-out 2,500 crowd at the German Masters.
Lawler’s previous finest hour was reaching the final of the International Open getting on for 18 years ago, where he lost 9-3 to a youthful John Higgins, and the world No50 claimed after his latest win that after the years of struggle this felt an equal achievement.
Lawler, of course, fell off the tour only two seasons ago but not downhearted braved the Qualifying School and regained his place. He has only qualified for the World Championships twice, the last time in 1996.
A popular figure on the circuit, he is occasionally known as Rod The Plod, a reference to what can be a pedestrian pace of play.
But in Berlin he has produced some of his best snooker for years in beating Marcus Campbell, Paul Davison, and on Friday Tian Pengfei and Davis. What with Liverpool’s 4-0 win over Everton which he watched in a bar on Tuesday, Lawler described it as a “perfect week”.
Lawler, already assured of an £18,000 payout, said: “It is going to be the first time in my career playing in front of that type of crowd – although it felt like that tonight at the end there against Mark.
“I am delighted and almost lost for words, really made up. Mark is used to this kind of stage a lot more than me, with more composure I could have won 5-3.
“But I have knocked a real one in a million brown, then the blue and pink in the decider. I wasn’t going to play safe on the brown, it could have been on the cushion and I would have gone for a double.
“We are playing for ranking points and prize money, it all goes in hand, and that is a massive payday for me no matter what happens.
“It is one of the biggest wins of my career, especially against Mark who is an established top player. Judd is a massive talent, he finished tonight in about a quarter of the time I did. Maybe I’ll tie his hands behind his back or something.
“It has been a bit of an extended city break, our flights home were booked for Friday so we’ll just go back when it is over. Our two lads, Kieran and Bradley are old enough to be looking after each other, and they are doing that, and it is great that Jo is here.
“I hadn’t been in a full ranking quarter-final for more than 10 years before this week, when the Welsh Open was at Cardiff against Stephen Hendry, and the International Open was a long time ago – though obviously I had the PTC win not so long back.
“It is very satisfying to get this far and I have played really well this week, and hit the ball like I want to. What has happened to me shows how the game is going, it is strong down to 90, 100 players and that is great for snooker.
“The dream is there of a ranking title, of course, but the main thing is competing in the arena and getting into the latter stages. I know I can do it, as I have beaten top players in the PTCs, and with the Liverpool win over Everton on Tuesday it has been a perfect week with Jo here to see it.”
Photographs by Monique Limbos