David Gilbert claimed the first ranking title of his career after defeating Mark Allen 3-1 to become the 2021 Championship League winner in Leicester on Friday.
The Tamworth cueist captured the first silverware of the new season as he was the last man standing after four weeks of competition at the Morningside Arena.
Previously a four-time beaten finalist, Gilbert landed the £20,000 top prize as he became the 68th different ranking event winner in snooker history.
The world number 23 endured a difficult 2020-21 campaign; a run to the Gibraltar Open quarter-final representing his best performance in a ranking tournament and culminating in him falling out of the top 16.
However, he has made the ideal start to this term and hopes it will pave the way for more titles further down the line.
“It’s fantastic. Last year was obviously quite tough, so to open up with a win is brilliant,” he told Matchroom Live.
“I weren’t feeling too great when Mark looked like going two-all; I don’t know what would have happened.
“I’m just relieved now; that’s done with and hopefully, I can start playing well again and compete in the other ones too.
“I know I’m never going to be the best player in the world, but I always felt I could just go a bit further and have some bigger moments, so I’m glad I stuck at it.”
Gilbert arrived in the final day having won all six of his previous matches in the competition, while dropping just a single frame along the way.
However, he began Group 2 with a 3-1 defeat by Cao Yupeng, who hit breaks of 73, 92 and 65.
But the 40-year-old hit back with runs of 72 and 100 putting Ryan Day to the sword 3-0, while a stunning 139 total clearance was the highlight of his 3-1 victory over Ali Carter.
Only a 3-0 win for Cao over Day would deny Gilbert a place in the final, but the Chinese ace’s hopes were dashed as he went down 3-1 against the Welshman.
Meanwhile, Allen blitzed through Group 1; finishing top with a 100 per cent record and dropping just a single frame.
The five-time ranking event winner opened with breaks of 123 and 83 in a 3-0 success over Tom Ford, before seeing off Chinese teenager Bai Langning 3-1 to qualify with a match to spare.
The Pistol, who made his 500th career century against Ricky Walden on Thursday, then went on a free-scoring rampage against dethroned reigning champion Kyren Wilson; consecutive breaks of 127, 124 and 146 the ideal momentum builder ahead of facing Gilbert.
Allen maintained that with a wonderful 102 clearance to draw first blood – his 10th ton of the tournament – but his opponent dominated the next two frames to stand on the brink of maiden glory.
The world number 12 had a chance to force a decider, but broke down after sticking the yellow over the corner pocket.
Gilbert subsequently needed no second invitation to end his long wait for ranking title success ahead of next week’s British Open.
“That (red at the start of frame two) turned the whole game really,” Allen admitted.
“I started great and then just took it for granted a little bit; I didn’t give the shot the attention it deserved and sometimes the ball doesn’t forgive you.
“All credit to Dave; he did what he needed to. I don’t come here to lose, but I’ll take a lot of positives into next week.
“I’ve played some good stuff over the three groups that I’ve been in, so I’m quietly confident.”
Championship League Snooker 2021 Results
Friday August 13
Kyren Wilson 2-2 Bai Langning (Group 1)
Ali Carter 2-2 Ryan Day (Group 2)
Mark Allen 3-0 Tom Ford (Group 1)
David Gilbert 1-3 Cao Yupeng (Group 2)
Mark Allen 3-1 Bai Langning (Group 1)
David Gilbert 3-0 Ryan Day (Group 2)
Kyren Wilson 2-2 Tom Ford (Group 1)
Ali Carter 3-1 Cao Yupeng (Group 2)
Tom Ford 3-1 Bai Langning (Group 1)
David Gilbert 3-1 Ali Carter (Group 2)
Kyren Wilson 0-3 Mark Allen (Group 1)
Ryan Day 3-1 Cao Yupeng (Group 2)
Mark Allen 1-3 David Gilbert