RICKY Walden is relishing the chance to dine at snooker’s top table.
The Bagillt Bombshell is off to Wembley after being handed the one remaining wild card entry for the BBC-televised Masters.
It is reward for the 26-year-old’s landmark success at the Shanghai Masters in October when he swept aside Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan to claim the first ranking title of his career.
It will be world number 35 Walden’s debut appearance at the sport’s most sought-after invitation event, which is reserved for the top 16 players on the planet.
And, having been given the nod over legends like Davis and Jimmy White, he is determined to make the most of the opportunity.
Walden said: “It’s brilliant news. I’m back practising hard and I can’t wait to get down to Wembley.
“Even though I’ve just won a ranking event, the wild card place could easily have gone to players like Davis or Jimmy because they still put bums on seats. But they’ve given it to me and hopefully I’ll go down there and do well.
“I’ve never played at Wembley or even been there before so it’s going to be a new experience for me, but I’m going to be really well supported and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Walden, up to 21st in the provisional rankings, will take on Mark King at the Wembley Arena a week on Sunday for a place in the last 16 against his friend and defending champion Selby.
Former World Under 21 champion Walden hammered world number 15 King in the final of the Ravenace Pro-Am in Birmingham last summer. But he said: “He’s a really good player and it will be different this time as it’s the first time I’ve played him in a professional tournament. But as long as I settle down, I should be fine.”
Walden learned of his selection to The Masters after a heavy night out in Las Vegas, the trip he had promised his friends after he pocketed £52,000 for his victory in Shanghai.
He said: “We all got in at about 8.30am in the morning, Vegas time. I then got a call from World Snooker saying I’d got the wild card, so I went into other room, told the boys and we went straight back out again!”
Ex-Flint High School student Walden, whose career started in the Deeside League, is now back in training at a time when his friends and family are celebrating Christmas and New Year.
He said: “It is hard at this time of year as all you want to do is chill out. But to be honest, when you’ve got something like Wembley coming up, nothing else matters.”