STUART BINGHAM said his Welsh Open win felt almost as sweet as becoming world champion after taking his first title for two years with a nail-biting victory over Judd Trump in the final in Cardiff.
Ballrun was 4-0 up but trailed 8-7 heading into an epic finale before steeling himself to level with a brilliant clearance which concluded with a gutsy double on the pink and a celebratory fist-pump (pictured below).
The Basildon star, 40, then kept his nerve with a match-winning clearance in the decider to add the coveted Home Nations title to his 2011 Australian Goldfields Open crown, the 2014 Shanghai Masters title and, of course, his fairytale 2015 World Championship triumph at the Crucible.
It was a sweet moment for Bingham, whose wife Michelle had surprised him by traveling up to the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff with their new baby girl Marnie to see him win the £70,000 prize.
Michelle and Bingham’s manager Gary Purkiss were table-side as Bingham collected the prize from six-time world champion Ray Reardon (pictured below with Bingham).
And it was a huge relief for the world No 2 who had incredibly lost to no fewer than seven eventual champions and four runners-up out of 18 events this season – and had been beaten in the Welsh Open final in a deciding frame with Stephen Maguire in 2013.
Bingham said: “This title was right up there for me and not too far behind the world championships to be fair.
“After winning tournaments in consecutive seasons it was hard not to win one for a while – especially as I had been going so close too. So it was also a relief in Cardiff.
“And having Michelle and the baby there made it extra special. I’d spoken to her on the phone the night before and she said it was going to be too much trouble to make it. But when we went for the break at 5-3 she was there – and that was a nice surprise.
“And at one stage in the match I really did not think it was going to be my night so to come back and do it in that way also made it feel extra special.
“It was a tough match in front of a packed crowd that was probably 90 per cent for Judd. At one stage I was over a tough blue and someone in the crowd said ‘miss it’, so that kind of thing made it a tough environment.
“And Judd gave it the fist pump when he went 8-7 up so – when that pink dropped to make it 8-8 – I did the same.
“But he is a friend of mine and we respect each other. It’s all good banter and I had to play him again the following day!”
The action in Wales did not conclude until approaching the midnight and just 12 hours later, and after a 6am start and two-hour road trip to Coventry, Bingham had to begin his 2017 Championship League campaign – and ironically against Trump (pictured below with Bingham in Cardiff).
Trump, 27, won 3-2 but Ballrun went on to record a 3-0 win over Ryan Day and a 3-1 victory over Laing Wenbo. He will resume his Group 5 fixtures against Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy and Kyren Wilson on Tuesday.
The win in Wales was the perfect remedy to a disappointing start to February for Bingham at the World Grand Prix in Preston where he lost 4-2 in the first-round to Ryan Day, who went on to lose 10-7 in the final to Barry Hawkins.