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Snooker: Ricky Walden pushes Stephen Maguire to limit in China Open

RICKY Walden was narrowly beaten in the last 16 of the China Open by friend and eventual finalist Stephen Maguire.

The Bagillt Bullet pushed former UK champion Maguire all the way in a 5-4 encounter in Beijing which lasted almost three-and-a-half hours.

Having previously beaten Mark Allen 5-2 in the opening round, Walden’s top break was 86 while Maguire knocked 79, 132 and 68 to book a match with Ronnie O’Suillivan in the next round.

Afterwards Maguire said: “It was a tough old struggle.

“I don’t know if it’s because me and Ricky are good friends, we grew up together. After the first four frames, it was just whoever stood up the longest, it was a pretty poor match, but I'm just glad to get through it.”

Maguire saw off O’Sullivan 5-4 in a black-ball final frame and also dispatched Stephen Lee 6-2 before losing out in an epic seven-and-a-half hour final 10-9 to Peter Ebdon.

Walden is currently ranked 15th in the world but his return to the world’s top 16 came too late to afford him automatic qualification for the main draw of this year’s World Championships.

Instead he will play in the final qualifying match at the English Institute of Sport on Saturday, April 14 before the main draw is made to earn his spot at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield for the championships, which begin on Friday, April 27.