David Gilbert is the first man into the International Championship final after a 9-5 victory over Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in China on Friday.
In doing so, the Englishman reaches his maiden ranking event final at the age of 34 having been a professional player since 2002.
The fact that this week was the first time that Gilbert had even embarked on a quarter-final in a tournament of this stature is testament to how much of breakthrough week this is for the well-liked potter.
The match-up against Un-Nooh was a surprising one that not many would have predicted at the outset of a tournament now regarded by some as the fourth major.
Both ranked in the 40s in the world, their superb progression through the rounds guaranteed that the trend of lower ranked players emerging to contest a ranking final would continue following Ben Woollaston, Gary Wilson and Martin Gould’s efforts in runners-up spots in the Welsh, China and Australian Opens – before Kyren Wilson subsequently captured the Shanghai Masters last month.
It was difficult to predict a winner between the pair but Un-Nooh’s tenacity to win all five of his bouts during the tournament in deciding frame thrillers led to him boasting an aura of almost invincibility.
Gilbert’s route to the last four was by no means achieved the easy way, though, with only two frames left uncontested in tight victories over Xiao Guodong, Oliver Lines, Ryan Day and Marco Fu.
The pair’s opening session today gave every evidence that we were in for another close encounter but, having established a 5-3 advantage, the outcome of the match in Gilbert’s favour hinged on the beginning of the second session.
A brace of steals sandwiched a wonderful 112 century break and duly took Gilbert to within one frame of triumph.
Naturally, the nerves set in somewhat, allowing his opponent, similarly inexperienced at this stage of a prestigious event, in for a reprieve.
Yet Un-Nooh couldn’t maintain his heroics and, despite collecting another two frames to get back to draw nearer at 5-8, Gilbert finally recorded the result of his career to set up a final against either Mark Selby or John Higgins.
The first semi-final wasn’t of the highest quality throughout but all credit must go to both competitors, in particular obviously Gilbert.
He is someone who has always been regarded as having immense talent but who perhaps hasn’t quite made enough of it to forge a successful career – so far at least.
However, we have seen a dozen or more players over the last five years begin their passage to glory when they have been supposed to be nearer retirement than their first piece of silverware.
Gilbert’s run this week, whether it ends with a trophy and £125,000 or not, will be a huge confidence booster.
The tournament win would be nice all the same, though, as not only would he join an elite group of players to triumph in a ranking event, he would also be invited to play in the lucrative Champion of Champions in November.
That’s an obvious aside, and for now he’ll be concentrating on the here and now.
His task becomes that much greater in the final as he not only has to contend with his nerves, but also a proven champion in either Selby and Higgins.
That duo duel on Saturday in a repeat of the 2007 World Championship final.
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