Well, at least, it’s unexpected to me.
Tomorrow, Mark Williams, the reigning World Champion, will face David Gilbert, ranked n°29. Gilbert though has reached a final before this one, in China, at the International Championship 2015. He then lost to John Higgins by 10-5. The interesting bit is that both players are part of the sightright stable…
Here are the semi-finals reports on Worldsnooker
World number 29 Gilbert is already guaranteed his highest career pay day of £75,000, and he will double that to £150,000 if he can win Sunday’s final against Mark Williams or Noppon Saengkham. The title would shoot Gilbert into the world’s top 16 for the first time in his career, and also earn him a place in next month’s invitational Shanghai Masters. For more on that race click here.
Former tractor driver Gilbert reached his only previous final at the 2015 International Championship, also in China, where he lost 10-5 to John Higgins.
Breaks of 101 and 65 helped put Gilbert 3-0 up today, then world number seven Hawkins pulled one back with a 59 and made a 40 clearance in frame five to close the gap to 3-2. A run of 67 from Gilbert gave him frame six then Hawkins responded with a 91 for 4-3.
A scrappy eighth frame went Gilbert’s way and he had a chance for victory in frame nine but failed to get position on the final green, and Hawkins got the better of a safety exchange and cleared for 5-4. But Gilbert took control of the tenth with a break of 45, and when his opponent missed the third-last red he added the points he needed.
“I’m over the moon,” said Tamworth’s Gilbert. “For 90% of the match I played great, then the wheels came off towards the end and someone nearly had to pick me up off the floor. It means a lot because it’s a lot of money on offer.
“I didn’t think I could win a game here this week. I got lucky in the first round because Matthew Stevens pulled out with a bad back, that was a very tough draw for me.
“Last time when I got the final I only had about £10 to my name so I was just so happy to have £60,000 in my back pocket and I didn’t really think I could win. I was a bit in awe of John Higgins. Tomorrow I will have to play to the level I did for the first eight frames today, and then be stronger if I get close to the winning line. Hopefully I can just settle down, start well and get into the game.
“It would mean everything to me to win the title, the only thing I’ve always wanted to do is go home a winner. I haven’t won anything since the Tamworth Open about 25 years ago. To be in the top 16 as well would be where I’ve always wanted to be.”
Asked if he had any plans for the £75,000 he is already guaranteed, Gilbert joked: “My wife keeps telling me how bad my teeth are and she wants me to get a new set of dentures so I can smile in a picture with our little baby Taylor. Maybe she’ll talk me into that, but I quite like my teeth.”
Hawkins, who has now lost 15 of his 22 ranking semi-finals, said: “There was a new cloth on the table and I just couldn’t get used to it. The table played beautifully but the speed was different to how it was before. I’m disappointed to lose.”
Williams goes through to the final in China to face David Gilbert, with first to ten frames to take the trophy and a top prize of £150,000. That would bring the Welshman’s earnings since the start of last season to well over £1 million.
World number three Williams recovered a 3-0 deficit to beat Jack Lisowski yesterday and once again had to fight back from well behind, but showed his trademark calmness under pressure at the business end of the match. Thailand’s Saengkham was left to rue a missed opportunity as he passed up the chance to reach his first ranking final.
On Sunday Williams will be playing in the 34th ranking final of his career and aiming for his 22nd ranking title. Three of those have come within the past nine months as he won the Northern Ireland Open and German Masters last season before capping off the campaign by landing the World Championship. He’ll start strong favourite against Gilbert, who has never won a ranking event.
The first two frames tonight were shared, then Saengkham could have taken the third but missed the final brown, allowing Williams to snatch it by clearing to the black. A superb 142 total clearance – the highest break of the tournament so far – got Saengkham back to 2-2.
Williams looked likely to win the fifth frame when he led by 21 points on the blue, but his opponent laid an excellent snooker behind the black to gain the points he needed. Saengkham then got the better of a safety exchange and potted blue, pink and black to go ahead.
The Thai dominated the next two frames with top runs of 56 and 59 to go 5-2 up. But Saengkham potted just two balls in the next three frames as Williams battled back to 5-5 with breaks of 44, 40, 56 and 64.
Both players missed chances early in the deciding frame, then the crucial moment came when Saengkham botched a safety shot leading 20-17. Williams made a crucial break of 34 which proved enough for victory, the match ending at 11.40pm local time.
“When you’re free-rolling you get the rub of the green,” said Williams. “When I went 3-2 down everything went against me. He was the much better player and I found it hard to get a rhythm going. At 5-2 I just wanted to keep him under pressure, I found another gear and got a bit of fluency going. At 5-5 I fancied my chances because we were playing for over £40,000 for one frame and that’s a lot of pressure so I knew he would start feeling it. I got out of jail.
“If I lose I don’t care because I’ll be living off the Crucible win for the rest of my career. If I can nick another tournament along the way then great, if not I don’t mind. There’s no pressure tomorrow, I’ll just enjoy it.”
From all this I only saw the second mini-session of the Williams v Saengkham match. To me it was obvious that Noppon was feeling it as soon as Willo won one frame back. Yes, the World Champion was playing very well, but he didn’t win frames in one visit. Noppon was making mistakes he wasn’t making in the previous frames, be it missed pots or misjudged safeties. It’s true that he didn’t much wrong, but he had not many opportunities to do much at all. The ones he had, he failed to make anything of them.
As for Barry Hawkins he had to deal with some awful abuse on twitter after his loss. I have no doubts that this came from someone who had bets on him and suffered heavy financial loss. I have zero sympathy for them. Anyone with a brain should realise that if so many betting companies flourish and prosper, it’s because the punters do lose much more on average than they win. Much, much more in fact. In the vast majority of cases it’s not because sports(wo)men don’t try their best or are corrupt, it’s because they are human. Form is not a tap you can turn at will. Everyone, in every type of job, has good and bad days in office. To me, nobody should be allowed to post on any social media anonymously: real identity should always be exposed. I’m certain that it would make the Internet a far better place: the coward keyboard warriors and malevolent trolls would soon decamp and people would think twice before spreading libel.