DAVID Grace acknowledges that his improbable run to the UK Championship semi-finals has been the most thrilling adventure of his snooker career and has no regrets, despite one final rollercoaster bringing it to an end on Saturday afternoon.
For a moment, as he led world No.29 Liang Wenbo 4-2, the Leeds potter’s journey looked like it would take him all the way to the final at York’s Barbican Centre.
But the Chinese star rallied to edge a marathon encounter 6-4 and seal his spot in Sunday’s best-of-19 showpiece instead.
The last-four encounter was compelling but could not be described as high-quality – with both men looking understandably nervous on a big stage they are simply unaccustomed to.
For Grace, just making it to the last four had been a momentous effort as he was underdog for all five of his victories over the past ten days.
But after collecting by far the biggest payday of his career, £30,000, the 30-year-old insists he will never forget his fairytale run.
“I’ve loved every single minute of this experience – just being involved in such a big tournament and going through the rounds,” said Grace.
“I was dead and buried against Martin Gould in the quarter-final, so if you’d have said to me then I would be in the semi-finals I would have taken it.
“But obviously the way that’s gone, I’m gutted. I’ve said all along that I’ve not been consistent enough but you can have one really good week and that’s your best chance of getting in the top 64.
“I’ll still need plenty more results to stay on the tour but at least I have given myself a chance.
“It’s good money and money like I’ve never seen before in my life, so when that comes through into my bank account that will be unreal.”
Grace consistently made a mockery of his ranking of 81 in the world to beat Andrew Higginson, world No.17 Robert Milkins, Jack Lisowski, Peter Ebdon and Martin Gould before facing Liang.
In what was the biggest match of both men’s careers, perhaps the scrappy, error-strewn encounter that ensued was to be expected.
Liang in particular looked very nervous early on and although he edged a lengthy opening frame, the Leeds man found himself 3-1 up by the mid-session interval – a 52 break in frame three the highlight.
Grace was looking to become the lowest-ranked player in history to reach a UK Championship final but the interval appeared to come at just the right time for his opponent.
The Chinese cueman produced by far the highest-quality moment of the match in frame five by compiling a classy 110 to narrow the deficit and although the Englishman did restore his two-frame advantage in the next, Liang reeled off three in a row to move within one of victory.
Grace looked set to force a decider before missing the crucial final pink, which the 28-year-old sunk along with a nervy black to reach the UK Championship final for the first time in his career.
And Grace, who is set to rise to 63 in the world rankings, concedes the pressure of the occasion ultimately got to him.
“Calling it a rollercoaster is about right. I was never in total control, even at 4-2 up,” added Grace.
“He made a nice century and he started to get all the table time. I couldn’t get anything going – even when I had half chances things that had been going right all week were going wrong.
“It was a shocking miss on the pink at the end – it was just a twitch to be honest. I potted harder balls than that in the break and I’d done the hard work.
“Maybe I should have taken a few more seconds over it because I might have rushed it but there’s no excuse for missing.”
As a struggling snooker professional, Grace supplements his income by cleaning the tables at the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds.
After reaching the semi-finals of the second-biggest event on the calendar, you might expect him to at least take a few days off but he claims that certainly won’t be the case.
Grace explained: “I’ll be back to work on Monday cleaning snooker tables and I deserve to be after that loss I think!”
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