Northern Ireland Open draw
Finals, News

Mark Williams Captures Alex Higgins Trophy

Mark Williams has won his first ranking event title since 2011 after a dramatic 9-8 triumph over Yan Bingtao on Sunday.

Mark Williams NI Open (WS)
Williams will move back up to 11th in the world rankings. Photo credit: World Snooker

The Welshman was never in front until the final frame, which he took to deny the 17 year-old an opportunity to become the youngest ever ranking event champion.

There were doubts before the showdown whether or not Williams would be able to compete after his wife Joanne had been taken by ambulance to hospital on Saturday evening with further complications stemming from a recent illness.

Williams left it until a couple of hours before the scheduled start time before confirming his participation on Twitter, to the delight of many.

The final had been billed as a clash between a legend from the old generation and a budding star from the new era – an encounter that could potentially save what was a largely forgettable tournament.

Deliver it certainly did, as the pair traded blow for blow all the way through in a gripping affair that, like twelve months ago, went the distance.

Yan, featuring in a maiden ranking event final in only his second season on the Main Tour and expressing a confidence that defied his teenage years, began the fixture more confidently.

The Chinese competitor established an early 3-1 advantage at the mid-session interval before two-time world champion Williams woke up with an excellent 104 upon the restart to finally get into the game.

Yet, Yan ended the first session with a 5-3 advantage and duly extended the cushion with the highest break of his professional career to date, a terrific 137, at the outset of the evening’s play to seemingly pull away and make a dash for the winning post.

Williams dug deep, though, and compiled successive runs of 62, 90, and 58 to pull back level and there was never more than a frame in it thereafter.

The duo traded the following two frames before a tense 15th in which both cueists had chances to steal a late lead.

Yan defended his earlier 60 tally to go to within the brink of breaking Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 24-year record of the youngest ever winner but ultimately couldn’t find the final gear.

Williams forced the decider, which he dominated to capture a 19th ranking event of an illustrious career.

Upon accepting the Alex Higgins Trophy for the second Home Nations series tournament of the campaign and pocketing the handy £70,000 winner’s cheque, Williams was understandably emotional with more than just a return to the champion’s enclosure on his mind.

The 42 year-old will obviously be on a plane straight back home and everyone has been quick to wish him and his family well in the immediate future.

In snookering terms, it marks the return to the big-time for a player once heralded as the unequivocal best in the world.

Williams joins fellow “Class of 1992” members Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins as ranking event champions from this season, the first term that the trio has all enjoyed glory in since the 2009/10 campaign.

It could be a long time before the sport again sees a trinity of ruthless winners such as these, who have been able to stay at the top for no fewer than 25 years and have shown hardly any signs that a let-up of their standard will occur any time soon.

One thing appears guaranteed, though, and that is that Yan will have his day soon and surely, like Williams, he will boast a staggering collection of silverware in the decades to come as well.

The 2015 World Cup winner will leap into the top 32 in the world rankings for the first time, a remarkable accomplishment after barely a year and a half on the circuit.

However, this occasion perhaps fittingly belongs to the “Welsh Potting Machine”, who reaffirmed, as if there was really any doubt, his lasting legendary status in the game.



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