Ricky Walden travels to this week’s BetVictor Gibraltar Open as one of 11 players in contention to pick up a bumper £150,000 payout and that isn’t the only thing in the Chester cueman’s sights.
The event marks the culmination of the eight event BetVictor Series, in which the player who accumulates the most prize money earns the bonus. Walden is also battling to edge into the top 16 of the two-year list and the top eight of the one-year list, to qualify for the World Championship and Tour Championship respectively.
World number 18 Walden has enjoyed a superb season, which has seen him reach three semi-finals and an additional two quarter-finals thus far. It has been a breakthrough season for the three-time ranking event winner, who is battling to return to the top of the sport after back problems suffered in 2016 caused a slide down the rankings.
First up for Walden this week is a tough opening round tie against Liam Highfield. We caught up with him to find out how he feels ahead of a hugely significant tournament…
Ricky, how confident are you of mounting a title challenge this week and putting yourself in contention for the bonus, a Crucible place and a Tour Championship spot?
“This has turned into a monster event, with so many big players competing on several fronts. You know that all of these things are possible, but we will all have to go some to do it. For the vast majority of players still contending, they will need to win the event. It is nice to still be in the mix though. Liam will be a tough first round opponent and he has been getting some results this year. He is a really good player. Straight off the bat I have a difficult game. I’m not getting too ahead of anything. You need to play well every game and focus round by round.
“I guess money talks with these kind of things. The more lucrative it is, people are going to try and snatch the pot. All the big guns are in Gibraltar and it will be really exciting to see who gets it. The whole concept is fantastic for TV. I’m sure Eurosport will be pleased and the viewers at home will be on the edges of their seats. Someone is going to end up with the pot and a payout at the end of the week.”
Considering you are yet to win an event this season, you’ve shown great consistency to get yourself into 11th position on the one-year list. Although you are still hunting silverware, how pleased are you to have been contending in a number of tournaments throughout the campaign?
“You can’t guarantee how you will find yourself up there, but I’ve done it through consistency. I’ve had a couple of quarter-final appearances and three semi-finals. I want to get my hands on a trophy, but the fact I haven’t actually shows that I am performing really well across several events. If I can keep doing that then it will give me a good chance of winning tournaments, which is the ultimate aim. All you can ask is to be in contention. I’m in contention for a lot of things and that shows where my game is at. I just need to keep on doing what I am doing and hopefully in the next couple of seasons I will be right up near the top of these things.
Do you feel that you are now back to your best?
“I think my base line form is getting higher, but I believe I have a lot of room for improvement. There isn’t too much in it. The more consistent you are, the more confident you get. I’m just trying to look at it logically and keep working. I’m not far away, but it is a good thing to feel you have room for improvement. You can’t ignore the fact that playing in semis, quarters and playing deciders toughens you up mentally. I feel mentally better than I ever have done. It is just the playing side that I need to get a little bit better. If I can marry the two together then I will be in a good position.”
How keen are you to make sure you earn a place at this year’s World Championship?
“At the end of the season, no matter how well you have done, if you aren’t at the Crucible it doesn’t feel the same. It feels as if something has been missing. I want to finish the season on a strong note. To actually go there playing well and being back to where I want to be with my game, in front of a big crowd, would feel really good and very exciting. Trying to qualify this year is a different prospect being pain free and playing well.”