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Apologetic Williams wary of Rocket threat

SNOOKER: Mark Williams has done the rounds of the Crucible with his apologies but is still poised to be the villain when he takes on crowd favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan in the second round.

The appetising clash of the Betfred.com World Champion-ship heavyweights gets under way tomorrow after 2000 and 2003 champion Williams booked his place in the last 16 by fending off China's Liu Chuang 10-6.

Williams (pictured) wants to be allowed to focus on his game but after being booed at the start of each session against Liu can expect another pantomime reaction when he walks out to take on three-time champion O'Sullivan, the man who has beaten him in three of the last six years in Sheffield.

The 37-year-old has had to grin and bear it, following his derogatory remarks last Friday when he called the venue that has staged the World Championship since 1977 a "sh*t hole", and said he hoped the tournament would move to China.

Williams last night accepted his pre-tournament comments were out of order, and he regretted them.

"Of course. I've already apologised to the main people I've really upset -- the staff and the people in the Crucible," he said. "There's not a lot more I can do really. It just came out a little bit wrong."

He is relishing the prospect of taking on O'Sullivan, saying: "I've been owing him one for 10 years. Let's hope this is the time I beat him."

Asked if he liked playing O'Sullivan, Williams said: "If I said yes, and I haven't beaten him for 10 years, I'd be a bit of a liar really."

Another tussle between two greats of the tournament was getting under way today as four-time champion John Higgins and record seven-time winner Stephen Hendry went head-to-head for the first time in the Crucible.


They faced morning and evening sessions and 43-year-old Hendry is taking little notice of his fellow Scot's shaky performance in edging out Liang Wenbo 10-9 in the first round.

Hendry said of the 36-year-old defending champion: "Last year he won the World Championship not at his best at any stage. He just refuses to go down and his B game is better than 80 per cent of people's 'A' game. "He always refuses to get beaten, he's a phenomenal competitor."