Finals, News

Mark is the King in Belfast

Mark King beat Barry Hawkins 9-8 to win his maiden ranking event title after an absorbing Northern Ireland Open final on Sunday.

King’s two centuries were his first of the week. Photo credit: World Snooker

England’s King fought back from 5-1 behind to pip his countryman in a thrilling contest that captivated a packed Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast.

In doing so, the 42 year-old pockets a £70,000 winner’s cheque but, more importantly, was able to raise aloft the coveted Alex Higgins Trophy in front of his family and friends.

That King had waited a quarter of a century to achieve such an accomplishment was reflected in his emotional post-match victory speech, in which he hinted at the struggle and hardship that he, and indeed so many, middle-ranked pros endure throughout a career.

Nobody has a given right to be successful but King, who spoke of overcoming gambling addiction, has certainly been there and back again in terms of the effort he has given to reach this point.

It was perhaps fitting that Alex Higgins’ daughter Lauren, who was famously cradled by her sobbing father after he captured his second world title in 1982, was there to present the trophy to the newest member of the ranking event winners’ club.

As though it had to be the case, King’s dream was never going to be fulfilled the easy way.

Indeed, the ‘Royal’ lost the opening two frames as Hawkins began like a train with runs of 85 and 113 to establish an early 2-0 cushion.

King responded with a ton of his own to get off the mark but lost the subsequent three frames to find himself 5-1 down and in danger of suffering a third defeat in a ranking final.

However, the former world no.11 managed to claw his way back by winning the last two frames of the afternoon session and proceeded to produce some incredible snooker as his opponent wilted upon the encounter’s resumption later in the evening.

With breaks of 62, 100 and 54, King won the next four frames to go into the last mid-session interval two frames in front at 7-5.

Hawkins composed himself to briefly threaten a 147 attempt but broke down on 73, enough to stop the rot, and drew level again with a 76.

King would have been forgiven to let the pressure of the occasion get the better of him but he scrapped his way back in front to go to within one of glory, before a quite incredible penultimate frame.

Finalist in the 1997 Welsh Open and 2004 Irish Masters, King missed a black off the spot which appeared set to ensure a decider.

Hawkins potted the required yellow to brown sequence to leave King 25 points behind with just 18 left remaining.

After the latter inadvertently knocked the black over the pocket when trying to gain a snooker behind it, he subsequently potted the blue before a lengthy exchange in which King attempted to land the pink on top of the black in a desperate – and unlikely – hope that Hawkins would accidentally knock it in.

Unbelievably, it worked.

Hawkins didn’t sink the black, but after King finally planted the pink next to it, the ‘Hawk’ tried to gently flick the pink only to foul by hitting the black ball first.

Further drama ensued as King potted the remaining two balls to force a re-spot, then agonisingly saw his attempted double to win hit the middle jaw as Hawkins eventually made it 8-8.

The final frame shoot-out was never going to live up to that remarkable spell but both competitors did have their chances in a thrilling climax.

It looked as though King might have blown it when he rattled a straight yellow off the spot but Hawkins failed to capitalise and the former finally got over the winning line in a grandstand moment.

It was a fitting conclusion to what was an enthralling week of snooker, the first time in eight years a tournament has been staged in Northern Ireland.

A few of the heavy-hitters pulled out prior to the tournament while the likes of Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy crashed out in the early rounds.

Yet, there was plenty of drama as John Higgins compiled his eighth career maximum break and Mark Allen equally enthralled and bemused fans of the sport in equal measure.

But it is King who we’ll remember this tournament by, and deservedly so after a gripping final victory.