Colour Returns to Gray’s Game – At Last!

Challenge Cup Winner Mark Gray
© Andy Warden


The two finalists in the fourth Challenge Cup of the season were players with very different mindsets – Courtney Symons, already a Challenge Cup winner from April this year, and a certain Great Britain international and world number 40 Mark Gray looking to desperately reignite his ability in GB9 competitions after a dismal 18 months.
Symons’ campaign began first thing on the Saturday morning with a showdown against a slightly off-colour Al Coton. He ground out a 9-4 victory before showing everyone he’d saved his gas for the next round – Paul Williams shown no mercy with a 9-2 defeat sparking the end of his campaign and sending Symons through to the last 16. There he was to face Morley’s Mark Lunn, British Amateur 9-Ball Champion and a play consistently making the latter stages of GB9 competitions. A high quality match ensued and a 9 racks to 6 scoreline saw Symons through to face another Yorkshireman in the form of Dave Nelson. He went one rack better than before in winning 9-5 and matching that score once again in his semi-final against young hotshot Tom Cousins to book his place in his second Challenge Cup final in the space of three events – a rare and outstanding achievement.
Prior to this event, Mark Gray had a quite horrible time in his newfound home of the Challenge division – a semi-final finish in April not much consolation for two first round finishes in the year’s other events. His campaign in this event started against Elliott Sanderson – in no mood to hang around, Gray dished out a 9-2 hammering to see himself through to face Glenn Cooney in the last 32. A much closer match saw Gray scrape through with a 9 racks to 7 win, before reaching top gear and beyond in his last 16 match against Nottingham’s Kevin Simpson. It was bagel time with the quickest match of the round taking place – Gray going through to the quarter-finals with a 9-0 win to his name. Andy Worthington bore the brunt of Gray’s domination, himself only managinG to put three racks on the board as Gray won through to the semi-finals 9-3. Fellow pro Phil Burford was waiting for him there, but it was Gray who finally seemed to brush away his Challenge Cup blues, winning 9-5 and entering his first final on GB9 since April 2010!
The final was a grinding yet quick affair. At 5-2 up the momentum looked to be with Symons, but four racks on the spin saw Gray move into the lead for the first time at 6-5. From there he held onto this lead and came away with a 9-7 victory. A much needed result for one of the world’s best cueists.