David Gilbert continued his brilliant run at the International Championship by beating Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 9-5 in the semi-finals.
Tamworth’s 34-year-old Gilbert had never previously been beyond the last 16 of a full ranking event but has produced the best form of his career this week in Daqing, China, and will now battle for the top prize at snooker’s richest tournament staged outside the UK.
On Sunday, world number 40 Gilbert will face John Higgins or Mark Selby over 19 frames, with the winner to bank £125,000. He is already guaranteed £65,000, by far his biggest cheque.
It will be the third consecutive ranking event in China featuring a player outside the world’s top 32, following Gary Wilson’s run at the China Open and Kyren Wilson’s victory at the Shanghai Masters.
Gilbert made an unspectacular start to the current season, winning just four matches in the first four tournaments, but was then given a new cue by practice partner Matthew Selt and that proved the catalyst for a run to the semi-finals of the recent Ruhr Open. He kept the momentum going and is now set to fight for one of the sport’s biggest titles.
The first six frames of today’s match were shared, then Gilbert pulled away to lead 5-3 at the end of the first session, making a break of 83 in the eighth. In the evening session he stretched his advantage to 8-3, making vital clearances in the ninth and 11th frames, as well as a run of 112 in the tenth.
Thailand’s Un-Nooh, the Six-Red World Champion who was also seeking his first ranking final, made a 57 clearance in the next and stole frame 13 on the colours to close to 8-5. But Gilbert got the better of a scrappy 14th to seal the result.
“I fell over the line in the end, but for most of the match I felt really good,” said Gilbert. “I never thought about the final or money or anything else, I just played the balls. I butchered a few shots towards the end. One thing I have tried to do this week is try to forget the blunders and get on with the match.
“I felt terrible before the match because I haven’t had much sleep. Once I’d won a couple of frames I settled down, and I was happy at 5-3 up.”
David Gilbert facts
– Has appeared in the semi-finals of two European Tour events, the 2013 Rotterdam Open and 2015 Ruhr Open.
– Reached the last 16 of the World Championship in 2012.
– Made his first official 147 during the Championship League last season.
– Relegated from the tour in 2011 but bounced straight back via Q School.
– Started playing snooker at the age of 11 with his grandfather.
– Used to work for his father’s farming company, doing jobs including picking potatoes, planting trees and driving a tractor.
– Got married to Abigail in July this year.
Un-Nooh said: “The turning point was the first frame tonight when I missed the chance to get to 5-4 and instead he went 6-3 up. There was too much pressure on me because I’ve never got to a ranking final. I didn’t have much luck today, but David played well.”