A star of the Spalding and District Snooker League has landed at number four in the World Senior rankings on his lockdown inspired return to the elite levels of the sport after 18 years.
Former pro Mark Gray has concentrated on professional pool for the last decade, but with no competitions currently available, took up the offer to play in the Rokit School Seniors 2021 last week.
As it’s run by World Snooker, it’s classed as an elite sport and the championships held in Reading included qualification opportunities to the Senior versions of the World, UK and Masters Championships
Gray just missed out on both the World and UK finals losing to David Lilley in qualification deciders.
But the 47-year-old managed eight wins in 11 matches in his eight day stay in the bubble enough to give him a World Senior Snooker ranking of four.
And importantly its rekindled his love for the bigger table and whetted his appetite to take on the likes of Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White who he defeated in a pro tournament 22 years ago.
“I’ve not had a pool tournament since last February and I’d heard a bit about the series and played a couple of events last year,” Mark said. “In the end I’m a bit disappointed not to get through to take on the likes of Hendry but I did better than I thought.
“I’d not played snooker at that level for 18 years an it’s on completely different tables to what I’m used to with faster cloths.
“But as I went in and started picking up a bit of form and I was thinking ‘I could go on here’.
“I was unlucky to get drawn against Lilley twice who is a really good player.
“I even managed a break of 131 in the second match I played against him, which is my highest for a long while, but I still lost 3-1 as his safety and long potting game are very good.
“I was a bit out of touch and it made me wonder if I’d been a bit more match hardened what I could have achieved.”
Mark is now back with his family after eight days in the hotel at the venue which culminated on Sunday.
In the opening Masters tournament which saw 96 entrants, Gray beat Stuart Watson and Martin Williams 3-0 before losing to Ant Parson 3-1.
There were four qualifying berths available for the UK Championships and Gray beat Stuart Reardon (3-0), Richard Emery (3-2) and Richard Lines (3-1) to reach the quarter final qualification deciders.
Lilley proved too strong though earning a 4-1 win to book a place at the national championship finals in Hull.
It was a similar story in the World Championship qualifiers quarter finals, Lilley winning 3-1 before clinching his place at The Crucible.
The next such snooker championship is pencilled in for September and it may be something that Gray looks to take part in with a pool career that’s seen him help Europe win the Mosconi Cup three times take six Pool Euro Tour titles and reach the World Cup final representing England.
“I hadn’t even picked up a snooker cue for a long time so to win eight out of 11 matches in the last week and be listed fourth in the rankings is pleasing.” said Gray who has had 37 breaks of 147 in his long career that started aged eight.
“The Spalding and District Snooker League have said they won’t restart until we’re back to normal and there’s no pool tournaments coming up.
“I would like to see what I could do in the tournaments at this level if I was more match-hardened.”