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Captain Captures First Title

Ali Carter captured his first ranking title by winning seven consecutive frames to beat Joe Swail 9-5 in the final of the Welsh Open in Newport.

The qualified pilot, nicknamed the Captain, lifted the trophy and pocketed a cheque for £35,000 in front of a fantastic crowd of 1,350 at the Newport Centre.

Carter struggled to settle in early stages, perhaps hampered by the sense that he might never get a better chance to win his maiden title. But eventually he broke free from the self-imposed shackles and allowed his natural attacking game to take over. From 5-2 down, he produced a sensational burst of high scoring, out-pointing his opponent 575-17 in a six frame spell.

Previously considered one of the best players in snooker history never to have won a ranking title, he has now removed that stigma. The 29-year-old will surely go on to take more silverware back to Tiptree in Essex.

This victory is the icing on the cake of a vast improvement over the past ten months. Within that period he reached his first ranking final at the World Snooker Championship – as well as making a rare Crucible maximum – and got to the semi-finals of three other ranking events this season. Up to third in the latest world rankings, he has earned more points than any other player this term.

There has never been any question over Carter’s ability, a player blessed with exceptional technique and ball-striking. For some time there were doubts about his capacity to deliver at the business end of tournaments. It’s certainly hard to believe now that after bursting on to the scene by getting to the semi-finals of the 1999 Grand Prix, it was another eight years before he reached the last four of another ranking event.

At last, Carter has taken a major step towards fulfilling his potential. The confidence he will gain through this scintilating performance on a big stage should help him establish himself at the top end of the sport.

He is the sixth different winner in six ranking events so far this season, following Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ricky Walden, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy.

To lose all control of the match after such a promising start will be heart-breaking for Swail. The 39-year-old admitted last night that he had been waiting for 18 years to reach his first final.

Another player with great natural ability – albeit with an unorthodox cue action – Belfast’s Swail was aiming to become the first player from Northern Ireland to win a ranking event since Dennis Taylor in 1985. His consolation is a leap of eight places in the latest rankings and the knowledge that his career is back on track.

Trailing 5-3 after the opening session, Carter stamped his authority on the match by winning the first four frames of the resumption in less than an hour, knocking in breaks of 116, 109, 61 and 91.

Swail’s only scoring chance was in the fourth of those, when he missed a black off its spot on 16. After the interval he was kept in his chair again as Carter knocked in a 67 to go 8-5 up.

Ulsterman Swail finally got among the balls in frame 14 and made 45. A safety tussle followed, with three reds left, which ended when Carter, arguably the best long potter in the world, cracked in a red to a baulk corner to initiate a cool 39 clearance which secured the trophy.