World number 19 Gary Wilson enjoyed a sparkling run to the semi-finals of last year’s Betfred World Championship, but will have to negotiate the qualifiers again this year, after missing out on a spot in the world’s top 16.
Wallsend’s Wilson was defeated in the one-table semi-finals by eventual winner Judd Trump. However, he produced some superb snooker to dispatch Luca Brecel, three-time World Champion Mark Selby and Ali Carter on his way to the semis, in an eventful run.
His opening round tie against Belgium’s Brecel came down to a nerve shredding final frame decider, with the scores locked level at 9-9. Both players were seeking their first ever match win at snooker’s Theatre of Dreams and as a result, the frame was ferociously contested. Wilson prevailed, but only after 79 minutes and 32 seconds of play, making it the longest frame in Crucible history.
“I could tell it was a long frame, but I had no idea it would be breaking records or anything like that,” recalled 34-year-old Wilson.
He added: “I made my Crucible debut in 2017 and played Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round. It was a great experience and a great draw for my debut even though I lost. However, it meant that when I got there last year, the main thing was to win my first match at all costs. You don’t want to be qualifying too many times and just keep losing. I wanted to progress in the tournament and that frame was all about winning. It wasn’t bad snooker either, we played some good safety. In the end it was a nice frame to be involved in, after coming out on the right side of it.”
Wilson followed that victory up with an impressive 13-10 defeat of Selby. It was a tie which Wilson only ever trailed for a single frame, as he notched up 11 breaks over 50 in a clinical display. The former China Open runner-up admits that it was a match that acted as an affirmation of his ability to perform to a high level, on the sport’s grandest stage.
“One of my strengths is my scoring and it just so happened that I was making the most of my chances, like I know I can when practising. The thing is that doing it on the match table at the Crucible is a different proposition. It is brilliant to be able to play to that kind of standard in the best place of all to play and especially against someone like Mark. I proved something to myself, that I can do it when it counts.”
He followed that victory up with a 13-9 defeat of two-time Crucible finalist Ali Carter, to book his passage to the hallowed one-table setup and the semi-finals. Wilson put up a game fight against Trump, but succumbed to a 17-11 loss. Despite missing out on a place in the world final, it was an experience that Wilson says he will cherish.
“I’ll never forget that, even if I never get there again. Playing in the one table setup at the Crucible is what every player dreams of. I didn’t go into the match thinking that way though, I was there to win. But it was nice to be involved in that kind of atmosphere and that kind of situation. It was just a little bit of a shame that I didn’t play to the standard I was at in the earlier rounds. I hope that it will hold me in good stead if I get there again.”
With the 2020 qualifiers under two weeks away, Wilson is beginning to ramp up his preparations. Despite an enforced break from the baize due to the coronavirus crisis, he says he will be fully prepared and won’t be using a lack of match action as an excuse, when the event gets underway.
“I’m generally quite harsh on myself, but in a good way. I don’t make excuses for things. If I play badly it is my own fault and it will be the same in the qualifiers. If I don’t play to the right standard, it will be nothing to do with lack of match sharpness. I will be prepared to get on with it and if I don’t play well it will be my own fault.
“In my own head I want to achieve the same sort of things as last year. However, it is the same in any sport, that you can perform one way in a certain tournament and completely differently in the next. That was over a year ago now. I don’t think of it like that. I’m just going to treat it like another tournament. I won’t be thinking about how I got to the semi-finals last year.”