Time to stick my neck out…I predict Ricky Walden will make some sort of breakthrough during 2007.
Whether he reaches a semi-final, final or even wins a tournament I can’t say, but he’s clearly improving all the time, as evidenced by his superb performance in the Welsh Open qualifiers in Prestatyn yesterday.
Walden began his match against Stuart Pettman with three successive centuries – 110, 139 and 107 – before winning 5-1.
The secret of this was, apparently, going on the wagon for the New Year celebrations.
He told me: “I stayed off the drink at New Year. It was a deliberate thing because I wanted to be right for this. I made a good start and it put the pressure on Stuart.”
Walden ended 2006 in disappointing fashion when some bad luck cost him the victory of his career over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Maplin UK Championship at York.
Leading 8-7 and by 56 points in the next frame, Walden suffered a bad bounce off the side cushion just one ball from victory and eventually lost 9-8.
“I was devastated to lose,” he said. “I went to Las Vegas the next day to get away because I was so disappointed.
“It hurt me but I took some positives out of it. I just wanted to get back out there and play again. That might be why I played so well because I was trying so hard.
“If I can stay consistent for the rest of the season then I’ve got a chance to push for a top 16 place.”
I think he will achieve this sooner rather than later. In many ways, he resembles O’Sullivan and he has the sort of attacking game that Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy have brought to the fore in title successes during the few couple of years.
Whether he has the all round game to survive at the top level yet isn’t clear but he doesn’t lack for self-belief and is starting to get some good results.
He’s 43rd in the world rankings but up to 35th provisionally and has qualified for Malta as well as Wales, with the Beijing Open and 888.com World Championship still to come.
Ricky was keen to mention his website – www.rickywalden.co.uk – so please check it out.