In our latest series of features we are talking to some of the world’s finest snooker players to find out what they think are the defining moments of their careers so far. Today it is the turn of three-time ranking event winner Ricky Walden to name his greatest match.
Walden had spent seven years as a professional when he reached his maiden ranking final. However, that uncharted territory didn’t deter him from grasping the opportunity that had finally come his way. Walden has selected his 10-8 victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2008 Shanghai Masters final as his greatest match.
Walden’s route to that final was about as treacherous as they come. He defeated a host of all-time snooker greats on his way, beating Stephen Hendry, Neil Robertson, Steve Davis and Mark Selby in Shanghai, before his title showdown with O’Sullivan. The run of prestigious opponents meant that by the time Walden reached the final, he wasn’t daunted by the prospect of facing the Rocket. When the clash got underway, he felt it was crucial to keep up with O’Sullivan, who is renowned as one of the best frontrunners in snooker history.
“I was pretty calm with it. I didn’t feel panicked. I had quite a long journey to get to the final. I had two qualifiers back at home and a list of amazing players out in Shanghai. It was hard all the way through. Without sounding too cheesy, it felt like it was right to then be facing someone like Ronnie in the final,” said Chester’s Walden
“It was a huge opportunity and I knew that. It was a big shame not having my family there, as when you are a kid you always think about having your family there in a big ranking final. I knew they’d be watching back at home and were glued to the TV. In reality it probably did help me to relax not having that, knowing that it was just me and mate Dale. It probably calmed the nerves.
“I felt that as long as I could stay close and not let him get away then I would be able to have a burst at some point. It was important to stay in the game and that was what I did in the first session. I was 5-4 down at the end but I was quite happy with that. I knew I was in with a shot going into the second session. It seemed to be nip and tuck. He would win a frame and I would win one. Ronnie was in a red hot streak of form at the time so I couldn’t let him get away from me.”
When Walden got to the verge of victory and led 9-7, he had looked all set to land a momentous maiden ranking crown. However, he spurned what could have been a crucial chance to allow O’Sullivan to move just a frame behind at 9-8. Rather than collapsing under the weight of disappointment, Walden used that moment as a motivational catalyst to get himself over the line. He picked himself up and fired in a superb break of 105 in the following frame to become Shanghai Masters champion.
“When I had that chance at 9-7, the balls were absolutely perfect and I mean perfect. I had a straightforward red to the middle. I only had to drop it in, but I missed it. I remember thinking of my mum and dad watching at home and feeling it was a big moment. I took my eye off the red and obviously Ronnie then punished it and cleared. He then went out for a toilet break and I was sat in my chair thinking that I cannot let this be the moment that I remember. There was no way I could fly home the next day and let that shot define my event. I dug in for the final frame and put 100 on the board with a few really good shots. I was motivated to make sure I wasn’t left thinking about that red.
“The tournament had been that much of a good run for me, I just remember having a really good moment of clarity after the miss. I knew I had two more frames and I knew I could one visit one of them. I am very proud of that looking back. I suppose this is one of the reasons it is my greatest moment. It was a breakthrough in terms of being able to deal with a moment of real pressure and come through some adversity. Shanghai is a cool place to be and we had a good night out afterwards. It is part of who I am and the way my journey has gone. We had a good few beers on the town and I remember being absolutely content with what had happened.
“My personality has never been one to have amazing belief before I’ve ever done anything. I’ve always felt I had to achieve stuff before I could allow myself to be like that. I suppose I was just rolling with it in that event, I wasn’t overly confident before that, but once I achieved it I then knew I could win. The two tournament victories I have had since then are down to that day and getting the first one.”
Walden’s two further ranking titles since then both came in China, at the 2012 Wuxi Classic and the 2014 International Championship. He also made the semi-finals of the UK Championship in 2011 and 2013, as well as also reaching the last four of the World Championship in 2013.
It is a slight source of frustration for Walden that people sometimes suggest he only produces his best performances in China, given how he has fared in reaching the business stages of huge events in the UK. However, he admits that his enjoyment of travelling has contributed to his success overseas and says that he can’t wait to get back to travelling the world.
“I’ve been asked about that so many times why my three wins have been in China, it is almost as if people think I can only win out there. I don’t think that is the case but the fact is I have only won over there so far. I’ve made finals in the UK and big semi-finals as well. I guess the conditions are different out there and there must be a reason it has gone that way for me. I think the key is that I don’t mind travelling. It isn’t a grind for me to be anywhere. I know a lot of guys on tour struggle with it but I don’t. I obviously miss my family, but if I am in a new city I make sure that I enjoy seeing it and sampling the culture. I think as a kid that was what was in my mind. To be able to jump on a flight and play snooker in China, Australia, America and all these different places. Snooker has been good to us and given us a chance to see the world. I can’t wait to get going to new places again.”
This post appeared first on World Snooker.