Mark Williams Is Rolling Back The Years And Could Become The Oldie With The Goldie

The last time Mark Williams was snooker world champion, Swansea City were at the bottom of the Football League, Robert Earnshaw was scoring 30 goals in League Two for Cardiff City, and Steve Hansen was still the Wales rugby coach. But as Simon Kendal-Williams reports, sometimes the clocks can go backwards.

What a difference a year makes.

Following defeat to Stuart Carrington in the final qualifying round of the 2017 world championship, Mark Williams seriously contemplated walking away from the sport he had graced for more than 25 years.

Fast forward twelve months, and the Welshman finds himself two wins away from lifting the world crown for a third time.

There is no doubt that a return to the winners’ enclosure this season – courtesy of claiming the German Masters and Northern Ireland Open – had rekindled Williams’ self-belief ahead of the biggest event of all.

But few expected his quarter-final victory over the redoubtable Ali Carter to be so straightforward.

Having edged 9-7 ahead as the afternoon session drew to a close, the Crucible was preparing itself for another one of those late-night dramas in which it seems to specialise.

Not so.

A break of 83 in the opening frame stretched Williams’ lead to 10-7, before he coolly cleared the colours to pinch the next.

Embed from Getty Images

World number 15 Carter, twice a runner-up here, rallied to make it 11-8.

But Williams’ fourth century of the contest – and eighth of the tournament – put him on the brink of victory, which he wasted no time in wrapping up to triumph 13-8.

A potential three-day semi-final against Crucible specialist Barry Hawkins begins on Thursday, with the winner facing either John Higgins or Kyren Wilson in the final.

“It’s going to be special,” 43-year-old Williams told World Snooker.

“I’m going to enjoy this because I’m getting older, and I don’t know how many more years I’ll be getting to semi-finals.

“I haven’t won it since 2003, and I honestly thought my days were up.

“But with the season I’ve had so far, why not?”

Since turning professional in 1992, Williams has always appeared more laid-back than most of his peers, especially away from the table.

The years of ‘banter’ between him and seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry, for example, is the stuff of snooker legend.

Embed from Getty Images

And as he approaches the autumn of his career, he puts his recent resurgence down to carrying this easy-going attitude onto the green baize.

“I’m playing the best stuff I’ve played in donkeys’ years,” said the Cwm native.

“I’m relaxed, I’m confident – I’m throwing frames away and I couldn’t care less.

“I just get on with it and forget about it, like I used to back in the good old days.

“I felt in control of myself and the match against Ali – I never felt I was going to lose.”

In Hawkins, Williams faces an opponent who revels in the unique atmosphere of the Crucible.

In the last five years, the 39-year-old has reached three semi-finals and a final in Sheffield, form which has seen him become a fixture in the world’s top ten.

And the way in which he dispatched tournament favourite Ding Junhui 13-5 in the last eight shows that ‘The Hawk’ has his eyes firmly focused on finally capturing the sport’s biggest prize.

Embed from Getty Images

“Barry produces his best stuff here, so it’s going to be a tough game,” said Williams.

“I haven’t played him in a long time, but I don’t care who I play.

“Sometimes people can get a bit nervous at this stage, but not me.

“I just can’t wait to get out there.”

Williams and Hawkins begin the first session of their best-of-31 semi-final at 7pm on Thursday.

The other semi-final sees the ‘old guard’ taking on one of the sport’s rising stars.

Four-time world champion Higgins emerged victorious from a 13-12 thriller against Judd Trump to reach the one-table set-up for the eighth time.

By contrast, 26-year-old Wilson will walk out for his maiden world championship semi-final after brushing aside Ulster’s Mark Allen 13-6.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *