By Luke Baker, Sportsbeat
This time last year, it took Ricky Walden 20 minutes to walk up a flight of stairs; now he’s winning multiple frames of snooker in that time.
So it’s no surprise he’s feeling positive, despite exiting the Betfred World Snooker Championship at the second-round stage.
Chester-born Walden came through three best-of-19 qualifying matches to reach the Crucible Theatre, then beat world No.13 Luca Brecel in round one before eventually falling 13-9 to Judd Trump on Monday.
It’s all a far cry from 12 months ago, when the Bagillt cueman was in chronic pain due to a back injury and crashed out in the first round of World Championship qualifying to Hammad Miah – who dropped off the professional tour this season.
Now fully recovered, the three-time ranking event winner is looking to get back to his very best and is convinced competing with Trump on the biggest stage – he led 9-8 in Sheffield before the world No.4 reeled off five frames on the spin – is a step in the right direction.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” said Chester-born Walden, who has dropped to 27 in the world rankings from a career high of six.
“This time last year I was really struggling – it was taking me 20 minutes to walk up a flight of stairs, my back was that bad.
“I’m competing again – I’m not playing to the level I want to play at but I’m getting better. I’ll come back stronger from this.
“I lost first round in qualifying last year, so to be back on the big stage, playing and competing is a real confidence booster. The last few months in general have been pretty good. I’ve been playing some decent stuff and my practice game is really good, so moving forward I think I can improve.”
Walden and Trump entered Monday afternoon’s final session locked at 8-8 and the 35-year-old won the first frame of the day before moving 42 points up in the next.
However, he attempted to outlandishly pot a red into the middle pocket from near the black spot but missed, allowing Trump to make a 66 clearance and level the match at 9-9.
The Bristolian took four frames on the trot, including a fourth century of the match, to triumph 13-9 and claimed the perceived insult of Walden attempting to pot the red spurred him on – although Walden fired back when told of Trump’s comments.
“He can think what he wants,” said Walden. “I play the shot as I see it – if I were to comment on every shot Judd plays then we’d be here all day. We’ve got different games, that’s the way it is.
“I felt like that was the shot to play – I didn’t execute it very well and then Judd made a great break after that, so fair play to him.
“I’m disappointed. It was definitely a missed opportunity because I had chances to nick more frames. I felt like I was threatening to play well throughout the match but it didn’t happen.
“It has been a tough year for me with the injury and everything – I felt like I’d never be playing at this sort of level again.
“I’ve been practising hard and everything is fine now but maybe I just tried a bit too hard.”
- You can watch the snooker World Championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport Player with Colin Murray and analysis from Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jimmy White and Neal Foulds.