This week, one of the leading players of the early 1990s...
Gary Wilkinson was a great talent who rose to prominence as the Steve Davis era was ending and the Stephen Hendry years were beginning.
He had to win seven matches in the old Pro Ticket Series that was used to determine new professionals and beat Martin Clark in the last of them to earn his shot at the pro circuit in 1987.
Wilkinson’s first significant success came in one of the WPBSA’s non ranking events (much like the newly announced Pro Challenge Series) in 1988 when he beat Alex Higgins 5-4 in the final.
Later that season, he beat Ray Reardon and Tony Drago to qualify for the Crucible where it was his misfortune to draw a certain Mr. Hendry.
Having slipped 6-2 down, he gave the future champion a great game, levelling at 8-8 and 9-9 before Hendry comfortably won the decider.
Wilkinson was a fast, fluent player in those days and the 1989/90 season saw him start to realise his potential.
He reached the semi-finals of three of the campaign’s first five ranking events – the Hong Kong Open, Asian Open and UK Championship – and rose 20 places in the world rankings to 19th.
However, it could have been a lot better but for a mental aberration in his UK semi-final against Davis.
Wilkinson was full of confidence going into the match having beaten Jimmy White 9-0 in the quarter-finals. Leading Davis 8-7, he misread the scoreboard and, believing Davis did not need a snooker, failed to make contact on a thin safety attempt.
Davis put him in again, Wilkinson left the pink, lost the frame and then the decider.
In the 1990/91 season, Wilkinson reached what proved to be his only ranking event final, the British Open.
Again, he gave Hendry a terrific battle but, again, he lost in a decider, 10-9.
Although he reached the World Championship quarter-finals the following month, he had missed out on a huge cash bonus in the first round when he jawed the yellow on 120.
Wilkinson began the 1991/92 season as world no.5 – his highest position – and would capture the biggest title of his career at the World Matchplay Championship, an invitation event for the 12 highest ranked players in the provisional rankings.
He beat Dean Reynolds, John Parrot and Jimmy White to reach the final before completing an 18-11 defeat of Davis.
A year later, as world no.8, he lost 10-8 to Neal Foulds in the final of the Scottish Masters, but his early flamboyance began to disappear and he became slower and, at times, more negative.
He dropped out of the top 16 after only two seasons and reached only three more ranking event quarter-finals, including at the 1995 World Championship.
At the 1999 Welsh Open, he was involved in a frame against Dennis Taylor that was re-racked after 57 minutes.
In the following year’s World Championship, he beat Jason Ferguson 10-9 in the longest ever best of 19 frame encounter – clocked at 698 minutes, including an 83 minute decider – to qualify for the World Championship.
Wilkinson was relegated from the circuit in 2006. Like most players, snooker is in his blood and he is still involved today as a highly efficient member of the WPBSA’s tournament team.