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Gilbert – Crucible Spot Would Be A Dream

Most snooker players could name one shot in their whole career they would like to replay.

It’s purely hypothetical of course, but if Steve Davis could step into the Tardis he’d go back to 1985 and play that black again. Ken Doherty would love another chance at the black he missed for a 147 in the 2000 Masters final. Stephen Hendry’s pick would also be a black – the one which hit the jaw of the middle pocket instead of dropping, during the 1998 Masters final.

David Gilbert’s choice would be a red, in the 15th frame of the Yushan World Open final in China last August, when he led Mark Williams 9-5. Some 16 years after turning professional, Gilbert was within touching distance of achieving a lifetime ambition and winning his first ranking title. But the red missed its target. Williams, who had looked close to surrender, took the frame, and with a spring back in his step, he showed the qualities which made him World Champion as he battled back to win 10-9.

Defeat was devastating for Gilbert. His run to the final earned him a career-best pay day of £75,000, but he was left with the agonising feeling that the trophy had slipped through his grasp.

“I never thought I would win a tournament and then I came so close,” reflected the 37-year-old. “A couple of months later I found myself sitting on my own thinking about ifs, buts and maybes. For a few days I couldn’t think about anything else; it did my head in.

“The one shot I would love to play again is that red at 9-5. With the coaching method I am using now, SightRight, I am trying to hit a lot of shots ‘plain ball.’ But this one I played the way I used to play, with side, and just butchered it. I got stuck between two shots and didn’t commit to either. I know exactly what I did, and I can’t believe I did it because otherwise I was so focussed on each shot. That was the only one where I didn’t stick to my plan. After that Mark played really well and I didn’t get another good chance. I just want to win a tournament.”

As the saying goes, it’s not how hard you fall, but how fast you get up, and Tamworth’s Gilbert shrugged off that defeat to keep the momentum going in what has been the best season of his career by far. In February he reached another final, beating the likes of Mark Selby and Neil Robertson at the German Masters in Berlin. As Sunday evening drew to a close he led Kyren Wilson 7-5, but his wait for a first piece of silverware goes on as Wilson played superb snooker to win 9-7.

“I only take the positives from that match,” said Gilbert. “I tried my best and I didn’t do much wrong – Kyren won it rather than me losing it. It wasn’t like Yushan which really hurt. As soon as I had walked out of the arena and got a beer in my hand, I was fine. Overall it has been a great season.”

Gilbert’s success this season could leave him among the top-16 seeds for the Betfred World Championship which would mean an automatic place at the Crucible for the first time. Going into next week’s XingPai China Open, he is currently 16th in the Race to the Crucible with Ryan Day hot on his heels. For the match schedule in Beijing click here.

Gilbert made snooker’s 147th maximum break earlier this season – a piece of sporting history

“To be in the top-16 and have my picture in the programme, that would be the realisation of an impossible dream for me and a really proud moment,” he said. “A lot of friends of people in the club are always looking at my results and where it puts me on the ranking list. But I just tell them to forget about it because it’s up to me to just try to win matches. The top prize at the China Open is £225,000 so someone ranked 60th could win that and knock someone else out of the top-16.”

Gilbert’s is a remarkable turnaround for a player who spent the first decade of his career inhabiting the lower end of the rankings. He also had spells as an amateur when he worked as a farmer, spending long days in fields driving a tractor or picking potatoes. In 2011 he was one match away from quitting snooker for good, but scraped through the last Q School event to keep his professional status. That proved the turning point in his career.

“I wasted a lot of time,” Gilbert admits. “I don’t regret anything or blame anyone. I was very immature, I didn’t live the life of a professional sportsman and I only really class myself as a pro snooker player since 2011. Before that I was around the game but there were only six tournaments a year and I didn’t practise in between them. Snooker was just a bit of pocket money. In the last four or five years I have treated it like a job.

“I can still improve. I’ve got a good few years ahead of me – I’m as fit as I have ever been. I’m not worried about age catching up with me because I still feel the same as I did in my 20s, and I can still party like I’m 21!“

Last year, wife Abi gave birth to their first child, a girl called Taylor, and it’s a happy home life for the Gilberts especially with the financial stability his success on the green baize has brought.

“I’m not a money-oriented person but the amount I have earned this season is mad,” said Gilbert. “I used to work 16-hour days for less than £30,000 a year. We’ve got a nice house now and feel very fortunate, and I appreciate it having known how tough it is to do a real job!

“I owe Barry Hearn a pint because of what he has done for snooker. I wish he had been around when I was 18, because my career might have been different. But I’m just glad he came along when he did. I hear some of the young players moaning from time to time and I don’t see how they can complain about anything. They need a reality check. If they went back 20 years ago there were so few opportunities.”