Jez Graham claimed the biggest title of his career to date and pocketed an £8,000 payday as he won the 2022 Ultimate Pool Challenger Grand Slam in front of the live FreeSports television cameras.
The Plymouth cueist came through a field of 128 entrants at the Players Pool and Snooker Lounge, bouncing back from a defeat in the double elimination qualifying phase before a string of fantastic results and performances in the straight knockout section.
Graham’s opening assignment could hardly have been tougher as he got the better of three-time Mosconi Cup winner Mark Gray, 7-5, but a 7-5 loss to Jasper Simmonds in the next round put him in the losers’ bracket.
However, the 39-year-old former England international and professional was resilient, chalking up a trio of wins over Josh Patel (5-4), Del Redmond (5-0) and Ricardo Jones (5-1) to get back on track and make it into the last 32 where the event was reset to single elimination.
There was no respite for Graham, though, as he had to deny two-time European Champion and one of the legends of the sport, Lee Kendall, 7-5, in the last 32. He eliminated Neil Brittain 7-3 in the last 16 and then came back the following morning to oust Conor Treacy 7-6 in the quarter-finals.
Now in the main arena for the last four, Graham continued his campaign with a 7-4 victory over former three-time world junior champion Darren Matthew.
In the final, Graham faced Phil ‘The Power’ Parkin. A semi-finalist at Challenger Series Event 1 in 2021, Parkin also had to make it through the losers’ side of the draw. In the knockouts he got the better of Ian Davenport (7-5), Ian Ali (7-5), Clint Grima (7-3) and then Jake Dylan Newlove (7-5) under the lights.
Having had a short rest before the title match, Parkin started the contest very well, going 3-1 up before Graham pegged him back at 3-3.
The scores moved on to four-a-piece before Parkin unexpectedly missed a crucial 8-ball to go back in front in the ninth. Graham capitalised, and as he had done for most of the match, kept his cool and produced some fearless shot-making to record an emotional 7-5 triumph in front of his wife and daughter.
The 2022 Ultimate Pool Challenger Series begins in less than a fortnight's time with Events 1 and 2 in Blackpool.