Thursday 15 November 2018

Williams digs deep to see off Higgins charge

Having won the World Championship, Mark Williams fulfilled his promise to perform his victorious press conference naked. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
Having won the World Championship, Mark Williams fulfilled his promise to perform his victorious press conference naked. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

Jim White

What a final this was. The greatest ever, Steve Davis described it as Mark Williams defeated John Higgins 18-16.

As the Welshman Williams addressed a pink that would have given him the 2018 World Snooker Championship, the journalists in the Crucible's press room were preparing themselves up for the most unlikely press conference of their careers.

So unlikely would be his victory, Williams had promised to conduct his media duties in the nude, retaining his dignity behind the renowned silver trophy.

But John Higgins was allowing no such prospect. 58 points down, he stepped up on to the table to ensure the final went into another frame. The nerve was incredible. The stamina magnificent. Because make no mistake, these were not spring chickens fighting across the Bank Holiday hours.

At 43 and 42 respectively they would become the oldest champion since Ray Reardon lifted the trophy in 1978. Though as far as anyone can remember, Reardon didn't use it to protect his modesty.

It was incredible snooker to watch, not least because only last summer, Williams had considered retirement after failing so much as to qualify for last year's Crucible extravaganza; he had not won a ranking title in six years.

Elegant

Convinced by his wife, he decided to stay on the circuit for one more year, and, with his elegant, languid style, eased his way through the earlier rounds into a position he had last occupied in 2003: putting himself just one victory away from trousering the winner's cheque of £425,000.

As Williams eased into a 14-7 lead in the afternoon session, there were those with tickets for the evening's finale who feared that they had bought duds. It looked as if it might be over before the six o'clock news: Williams was just four frames away from his first victory in the competition in 15 years.

He looked home and hosed.

The audience need not have worried. Higgins then undertook a comeback of a kind that normally occurs only in the pages of comics. Just after the evening's mid-session break, he had stormed back to 15-15. Then at 17-15 down he won another, his fingernails dug into the trophy.

Higgins's fighting qualities should never have been doubted. He arrived for the final session soundtracked by Underworld's Born Slippy, the theme to the film Trainspotting, Irving Welsh's tale of Edinburgh low-lifes.

It was an appropriate choice: the Scotsman set about his work with the relish of a cue-carrying Begbie. His shot selection perfect, his execution sharp, his cue work immaculate, this was an exhibition of ruthless, error free snooker. Williams had begun the final in coruscating form, taking a 10-7 overnight lead into the last day of the championship.

Then he moved up a gear, taking the first four frames in the afternoon but but there was warning of not becoming prematurely complacent, when Higgins fought back with the next three, recording three century breaks as he did so.

But Williams eased ahead with took the final frame of the afternoon to take an apparently unassailable 15-10 lead into the last session.

Higgins, however, does not do unassailable. With care and precision, he eased himself back into the match. Cheered on by his children, Higgins made his statement with a 131 break in the first frame of the evening session.

Williams then, 58 points ahead, let him back in for the second, not only missing a red but leaving it for his opponent to pot. Higgins stormed through, clearing the table. Williams then took a 47 lead in the third. But he could feel Higgins breath on his collar. And the Scot incredibly came back again to win it with an 82 break which eventually levelled at 15 apiece before, finally, his form waned.

Williams took the 31st frame to lead but missed when one pot from victory. Higgins cleared with a break for the ages but, in the 34th frame of this epic contest, Williams was given another chance and seized it before keeping his press-conference promise.

It said something for the standard of snooker that a naked 43-year-old speaking to a room full of media wasn't the most remarkable event of the night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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