A run to the semi-finals of the williamhill.com UK Championship established Ricky Walden among snooker’s elite. He tells STEVE CARROLL how he is in confident mood ahead of this year’s tournament

IT’S a stance that won’t find favour with too many of his colleagues. That change, from the best-of-17 frames to a shootout over 11 in the early rounds of the UK Championship, left some of the top players up in arms last year.

John Higgins railed against it, Matthew Stevens still isn’t a fan, and it was one of the issues that prompted the ‘Pistol’ Mark Allen to square up to World Snooker chief Barry Hearn in a high noon showdown.

But you won’t find Ricky Walden among the dissenters.

The 30-year-old took to the new format straight away, beating Stephen Lee, Mark Williams and Shaun Murphy.

He took a 5-3 first session lead in his semi-final against Allen but the switch to longer matches found him out and he went down 9-7.

Far from being disheartened by that defeat, however, Walden has gone from strength to strength.

Establishing his place in the world’s top 16, the Chester potter made a sensational start to this season when beating Stuart Bingham 10-4 in the final of the Wuxi Classic in China – grabbing his second full ranking title.

Now, he is hoping to go one better on his return to the Barbican next week.

He first must negotiate a tricky encounter with the promising Luca Brecel, who hammered Peter Ebdon 6-1 in the qualifying competition, in round one on Monday night to set up a potential clash against Mark Williams or Mark King.

“I’ve always loved York, think it’s a really good venue,” Walden said.

“I took to the new format well, I think the best-of-11 matches have improved the tournament. I’m really looking forward to going back this year.

“I had three really good wins (last year) and I felt as if I could win the tournament.

“I was right in the mix for the title and that was pleasing, especially as I’d never done well in the BBC events before.

“I played well in the first session of the semi-final and I felt in charge at 5-3 up.

“But I let myself down in the second session and missed too many easy balls.

“Mark played well under pressure so fair play to him, but it did feel like a chance missed.”

Four years on from his first ranking tournament victory – the 2008 Shanghai Masters – Walden, now at 12 in the world rankings, is hoping a last eight showing in the International Championship in Chengdu will give him momentum.

He certainly doesn’t lack confidence following his Wuxi success.

“You can’t get a better start to the season than winning the first tournament,” Walden added.

“It settles you down for the season and gives you a lot of confidence. It has secured my position in the top 16 for a while and it’s nice not to have to think about that. I feel as if I can do some more damage.

“Since then my results have not been great although I haven’t been playing badly. I did okay in the International Championship, getting to the quarter-finals, so hopefully I’ve got a bit of momentum now looking ahead to the UK.”

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