POOL: Gray makes his Mark on run to world semi

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A BUMPER payday was scant consolation for Mark Gray as he agonisingly missed out on becoming a world champion.

The professional nine-ball pool player from Baston defeated national champions, world champions and came through several cliff-hanger finishes on his run to the semi-finals of the World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

He was on the brink of a maiden final appearance when he suffered a cruel piece of bad luck against eventual champion Yukio Akakariyama.

Gray had fought back from 8-3 and 10-8 down to make it 10-10 with one frame to go. The local lad had the break which is a massive advantage, but the cue ball was unfortunately propelled down a pocket after a collision with another ball, leaving the Japanese number one to clear up.

But he did trouser $10,000 for his efforts, which is his biggest return in singles pool. It’s also the best run the 38-year-old has ever had in a competition that boasts 128 of the world’s best players.

Gray said: “If the white ball had stayed on the table I would probably have cleared up and I would have fancied myself in the final.

“But there is luck in nine-ball and I suffered some bad luck at just the wrong time. It was a crushing disappointment when it happened because the only time I had been ahead in the game was after the first frame.

“To battle back so well and just fail was very frustrating, but overall I have to be happy with my performance.

“I played and beat some great players and came out on top in some thrilling matches.”

Amazingly, Gray almost failed to make the last 64. He was handed a reverse in his first qualifying match against two-time World champion Efron Reyes from the Phillipines and had to come back from 7-3 down against Hungarian number one Vilmos Foldes just to stay in the competition.

Once through to the knock-out stages he knocked off the world number four Kuo Po Cheng from Taipei, reigning Chinese Open Champion Chris Melling and top ranked American Shane Van Boening before falling to Akakariyama.

Gray’s impressive showing also saw him rocket up 57 places in the world rankings.

“The run has given me a lot of confidence for the future,” Gray added. “My world ranking has shot up from 84 to 27 as a result of the World Championships which is a massive boost for me.”

A former snooker professional, Gray is now the resident nine-ball pro at Bourne Snooker Club.

He is also a regular player in the Spalding and District Snooker and Billiards League.