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Snooker: Ricky Walden seals place in World Championships

RICKY Walden has sealed a maiden trip to the World Championship – where the first man standing in his way will be one of his best friends.

The 26-year-old from Bagillt will fulfil a lifelong ambition when he competes at the famous Crucible in Sheffield next month for the first time in his career.

The world number 35’s reward for his qualifying-round victory over Anthony Hamilton on Monday is a first-round showdown with world number four Mark Selby.

And the April 20 clash will bring the memories flooding back for Walden as he and Selby shared the same dream to appear on the greatest stage of all when they were coming up through the ranks.

“I’ve finally got to where I want to be so it’s a really nice feeling,” said Walden, whose week to remember continued on Tuesday when he won big on the first race at the Cheltenham Festival and then watched his beloved Liverpool knock Real Madrid out of the Champions League.

“I’ve lost a few times at the final stage and that’s been so hard for me because it means finishing the season on a disappointing note.

“So to qualify for the first time is a massive weight off my shoulders.

“The Crucible is where every player wants to play, but it’s only when you become a professional that you realise you actually have a chance to play in it.

“It’ll be nice to face Mark as we’ve been playing snooker together since we were kids. We used to play on the same England teams and we’re good friends.

“He’s one of the top players in the world and I’m sure there are people out there who would say you’d want to avoid players like him in the first round, but I’ll fancy my chances and I’m sure he’ll be saying the same.”

Walden beat Selby on his way to his first ranking title at the Shanghai Masters in October.

But the 25-year-old from Leicester avenged that defeat by knocking the ex-Flint High School student out of The Masters on his debut at the Wembley Arena in January.

But Walden will be confident of overcoming the 2007 World Championship runner-up if he repeats the form he produced against world number 31 Hamilton at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.

The former World Under 21s champion won seven of the final nine frames, with breaks of 88, 93, 61, 103 and 90, to win 10-5.

“The pressure builds every year you don’t make it and after the year I’ve had, with winning my first ranking tournament and getting to The Masters, the pressure was even more intense,” said Walden, who will be back practising at the Chester Snooker Centre next week ahead of his appearance at the China Open.

“It’s been a great season for me but I’m not going to the Crucible just to enjoy it.

“Of course it will be a great experience, but I’m hoping to go as far as I can.”