Northern Ireland Open Final: Mark Williams vs Yan Bingtao

The final of the Northern Ireland Open is scheduled to be contested between Mark Williams and Yan Bingtao on Sunday in Belfast.

Mark Williams Shanghai (WS)
Thoughts are with Williams and his family at this difficult time. Photo credit: World Snooker

However, doubts have been cast on whether Williams will be able to compete after he shared the worrying news on Twitter that his wife had been taken by ambulance to hospital on Saturday.

The Welshman had alluded to private problems he was having in recent weeks and months on various platforms of late and it’s become clearer that his wife Joanne is struggling with illness.

Williams tweeted just after the second semi-final had started at the Waterfront Hall: “Not the phone call I wanted.”

“Mrs in ambulance taking her back to hospital tonight. Summit not right here. Waiting to hear what is going to happen next.”

“(Joanne) really going through it at the moment. Last thing I want is to pull out now but we will have to wait and see.”

World Snooker later stated that that the final is scheduled to go ahead as planned.

“To clarify Mark Williams is currently monitoring his personal situation,” the tweet from the governing body read.

“He has not withdrawn from the competition and as it stands tomorrow’s final will go ahead as planned at 1pm.”

Top referee Jan Verhaas subsequently confirmed on social media that Yan would collect his maiden ranking title should Williams be forced to pull out at the last minute.

Of course, everyone’s primary concerns are now with the Welshman’s wife, with many fellow players, fans, and commentators taking the opportunity to wish the both of them well and for Joanne to enjoy a speedy recovery.

It was hoped that a highly intriguing Home Nations showdown between a legend from an old era and a potential star from the new generation would ensue.

Both Williams and Yan emerged from mostly scrappy semi-final encounters with 6-2 defeats of surprise contenders Elliot Slessor and Lu Haotian respectively.

Williams will be bidding to seal a first ranking event crown in almost seven years and the 19th of an illustrious career.

The 42 year-old has watched on in the last decade or more as his contemporaries Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins have continued to consistently notch up the tournament wins.

When both of them exited early, along with a host of other marquee names, the opportunity opened up for the two-time world champion to take advantage of a weakened field and he has so far been up to the task – although it did appear as though he was suffering from some nerves as the winning line approached in his last four tie.

A triumph for Yan, meanwhile, would break O’Sullivan’s 24-year record of being the youngest player to lift a ranking event trophy.

Still only 17 years-old, the Chinese hotshot is already guaranteed to jump into the top 32 in the world rankings following the conclusion of this tournament in what is only his second season on the Main Tour.

Yan had a successful, albeit brief, amateur career, winning the 2014 World Amateur Championship, while he subsequently emerged victorious in the 2015 World Cup in a sensational run with fellow teenager Zhou Yuelong.

The youngster, evidently not short in confidence given the extravagant attire he has been donning at events this campaign, is widely seen as the most likely candidate to break Ding Junhui’s long Chinese dominance in the game.

Victory would represent only the third for a Chinese competitor at this level, following in the footsteps of Ding and Liang Wenbo – who also bagged his first at a Home Nations series tournament in last year’s English Open.

Williams and Yan have met only once over the 15-red guise with the former enjoying the sole success in the European Masters earlier in this campaign.

That clash materialised over the short best of seven format so this battle, with 17 frames to played across two sessions, will follow a completely different outlook – particularly for Yan who is vastly inexperienced at this stage.

How any final goes seems to mostly now depend on Williams, though, who even if he plays will surely, and understandably, have his primary focus placed elsewhere.

Live coverage will be on Eurosport and Quest TV.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)

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