David Gilbert Salvaged His Season By Winning In The First Round At The Crucible
Gilbert’s top-level career.
Two years ago, David Gilbert’s stock had never been higher. Although he agonisingly missed out on a place in the World Championship final, losing 17-16 to John Higgins despite having held a healthy lead in the match, the snooker world had woken up to Gilbert’s true ability as a player, and the ‘Angry Farmer’ himself had found a new sense of self-belief.
In a way, that win felt like the start of Gilbert’s top-level career. Although he had been a professional for many years, and a very assured one at that, he had never quite found a way to harness his true potential, but by reaching a number of ranking finals, and then the semi-finals at the Crucible, his career was suddenly on an upward trend, and a first title seemed inevitable.
What a difference two years makes. Heading into this year’s World Championship, Gilbert wasn’t particularly fancied on sites like Betdaq, and was in a position where he needed to win his first-round match just to ease pressure on himself for next season’s tour survival battle, having endured a torrid 2020-21 campaign. The 39-year-old cuts quite a relaxed figure, but even he must have been feeling the pressure as he made the journey to Sheffield.
But in one sensational performance, Gilbert restored confidence in his abilities, not just in those watching from the outside, but within his own mind as well. In beating his good friend and practice partner Chris Wakelin 10-4, the Tamworth potter rediscovered something of the form that led him to the one-table setup at the Crucible in 2019.
The first session was where the match was won. Six breaks of 50 or more, including two centuries, helped him establish a 7-2 lead in a session that Gilbert would never have wanted to end. By the time the two players came out the next day to play to a conclusion, it was simply a formality for Gilbert, who did well to stifle any hope of a Wakelin comeback and secure his passage to the second round.
The £30,000 earned for his first-round win meant that Gilbert jumped 26 places in the one-year ranking list, and eased some of the pressure on his shoulders in terms of his rankings. With the points earned from his Crucible run two years ago about to be wiped out, a victory in Sheffield was paramount. Given that he was seeded straight through to the first-round proper, Gilbert would not have earned any ranking points had he lost to Wakelin.
It was no secret that, given Gilbert’s poor season where the only bright point was a semi-final appearance at the Masters, he was seen as one of the easier draws for the qualifiers. But it’s fair to say that neither Gilbert nor Wakelin would have wanted to draw each other, and the player ranked 63rd in the world struggled with the occasion and couldn’t cope with Gilbert in such blistering form.
The quest for Gilbert next season is to try and enjoy a more consistent campaign on the whole. He is set to drop out of the provisional top 16, and that will make life more difficult for him in certain tournaments. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players never to win a ranking event. If Gilbert wants that to change, he’s going to need to start producing the form he displayed against Wakelin on a more regular basis.