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Ssb - can williams go back to the future?

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  • Ssb - can williams go back to the future?

    You write off the truly great players at your peril. Old clichés like ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ may be a tired way of putting it but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

    John Higgins looked like he was entering a steep decline towards the end of last season but has won the first title of this campaign. At 37, Ronnie O’Sullivan is at an age where players have traditionally gone backwards but has in fact won the last two stagings of the World Championship.

    And what of the other member of that golden triumvirate who each turned professional in 1992 and each conquered the snooker world?

    This is a really important season for Mark Williams. He has been treading water for the last year or so and the question remains whether he can find his stroke again or, to overdo the swimming metaphors, drown while thinking of former glories.

    Along with Stephen Hendry, these three (Higgins, O’Sullivan and Williams) have been the best players I’ve seen in the time I’ve been covering snooker since the mid 1990s. They are very different men from distinctly different parts of the UK but have each scaled heights most players can only dream of.

    The other day I was leafing through Snooker Scene’s report of the 2002 UK Championship, which Williams won with a 10-9 victory over Ken Doherty.

    One of his quotes stood out: “People back home thought I was finished but I’ve shown them that I’m not.”

    Hang on, I thought, finished? In 2002? How could anybody have thought this?

    But Williams had won only three ranking titles since becoming world champion two and half years earlier. It marked a departure from the remarkable consistency he displayed from finishing runner-up in the Irish Open at the end of 1998 to winning the world title in 2000, in which he seemed to figure in virtually every final.

    Leading up to that 2002 UK Championship he had seen Higgins and O’Sullivan win sundry titles. Hendry was still a force and Peter Ebdon had become world champion.

    Williams, though, won that UK title and it marked the start of a memorable season in which he captured the big three trophies, remaining to this day only the third player after Hendry and Steve Davis to achieve this. He played quite brilliantly throughout this spell, very much an authentic no.1 in an era jammed with contenders to that crown.

    The following season he completed the hitherto unmentioned ‘BBC slam’ by capturing the LG Cup. He arrived for his UK title defence in 2003 having won his first match in a remarkable 48 successive ranking tournaments.

    But that great record ended with defeat to Fergal O’Brien and from then on things suddenly got worse for this most laidback of players.

    We often hear it said that he dropped as low as 47th in the world rankings. It’s important, though, to point out that this was only provisionally. I covered pretty much every event on site back then and Mark was clearly devoid of confidence.

    Some said he wasn’t practising properly, that he was playing too much poker, that he had management troubles. Whatever it was, he wasn’t his old self and this was reflected by his performances on the table.

    He picked up the 2006 China Open but was relegated from the top 16 in 2008.

    Many saw this as a humiliation but Williams’s character was key to him pulling himself out of the mire with the minimum amount of fuss, drama or complaint. When Ken Doherty was forced back in the qualifiers it felt like a death – of his career – but Williams, a man with no airs and graces, took it on the chin and just got on with it.

    He returned to the top 16 after one season and eventually got back to world no.1 after winning the inaugural German Masters in 2011.

    This was a triumphant return to the top for a player whose achievements were in danger of being forgotten. At his best, Williams had been one of the few players who could beat Higgins and O’Sullivan at their best. His game had always been based around brilliant single ball potting, forcing openings, but he was also adept at scrapping it out if he had to. He would have made far more centuries had he not taken his foot off the gas when frames were mathematically safe.

    He’s always been a fierce competitor. His upbringing is surely one reason for this. I asked him once who he had supported in the 1985 world final. Williams said he hadn’t watched the conclusion of the most famous match in snooker history as he was out supporting his father, a miner, who was on strike during a notorious time in modern British history when the country’s industrial landscape shifted, huge numbers of jobs were lost and entire communities changed forever.

    It may have been these experiences which forged in Williams a general distrust of and distaste for authority and a desire not to play the PR game. This was evident in his unwise but in many ways innocent dismissal of the Crucible as a venue last year.

    The first time I interviewed him he told me to stay where I was when we'd finished. He downed half a can of Coke and then loudly belched the name Jenny Jones, who at the time was a leading US chatshow host. I've liked him ever since.

    That may sound unprofessional or even odd behaviour from a leading sportsman but I'd much rather that than 'I hit the ball well and felt good' or a long litany of tedious complaints. Mark's never pretended to be anything other than what he is: a working class boy made good.

    People mock Williams for his tracksuits but, unlike some players, he isn’t interested in portraying an image. He is who he is. Who he is was defined by where he comes from.

    He respects the other greats but was never in awe of them. He had just turned 22 when he thrashed Hendry 9-2 in the 1997 British Open final. Asked afterwards how he felt he replied: “I’m gutted. I wanted to beat him 9-2.”

    His consoling words to Davis after the legend lost his top 16 place were, “don’t worry, Steve, I can get you tickets to the Masters.”

    That German victory two years ago came after he narrowly lost the UK Championship final to Higgins, having led 9-5. Williams was 8-5 up to Stuart Bingham in the Australian Open final a few months later but lost 9-8. Then he lost 10-9 from 9-7 up to Mark Selby in the final of the Shanghai Masters.

    That defeat, like the one to O’Brien eight years earlier, signalled the start of a rocky spell. The Welsh left-hander lost his head over a refereeing decision and, rarely for a genuinely sporting player, took the defeat badly.

    Put simply, Williams has looked his old self all too infrequently in comparison to old foes Higgins and O’Sullivan in revent times.

    But they may have done him a favour. I’m sure Mark must look at them and feel that if they can still do the business then so can he.

    He started the current season 15th in the world rankings. He has been practising hard for the new season. In a long sporting career, motivation is sometimes difficult to summon up, but the prospect of slipping into oblivion tends to focus the mind.

    At his best, Williams has been a bully at the table. He has dominated the very best the game has had to offer and the effortless style he has – which of course has come after much effort – is great to watch.

    If he can hit his stride again then he has every chance to land more silverware. I have to disagree here with some other pundits: the standard hasn’t risen appreciably since the early part of the millennium when Williams, Higgins and O’Sullivan were sharing the titles around. If he can produce anything close to that level then he can win any tournament he enters.

    The test will come not only in the big events but against the top players, most of whom are now younger than him.

    Williams was especially poor in the Masters last season, which was painful to watch for those who have followed him for so long. He also lost in the first round at the Crucible, failing to put young Michael White in his place.

    Well, new season, new start and all that. He seems determined to not – to borrow a phrase of his – collapse like a cheap tent.

    I’m sure there are people back home who once more think he’s finished. They may have to eat their words again.


  • #2
    I too hope he finds his confidence or whatever he is lacking
    so he can play some more brilliant snooker as he is a joy
    to watch when he is playing well.

    It has been painful to watch his poor play lately knowing
    he is capable of much more.


    • #3
      1997 to 2003 was the most consistently highly competitive era ever when it came to the sharp end of major tournaments.

      Wiliams had the narrowest of passages in terms of room to work with to win the title in that 1998 Masters final.
      Last edited by david16; 14th June 2013, 11:01 AM.


      • #4
        Really enjoyed reading that , Williams has always been my fav player and it is painful to watch him struggling , just hope he can regain his confidence and win a few more tournys


        • #5
          Williams had that extra bit of bottle that White lacked when it came to the crunch down the stretch in the world championship final at the Cricible, and at Wembley in the Masters.

          1998 masters final. Who else would have recovered to win from 6-9 v Hendry that day. More to the point Hendry played superbly well that day for most of the match, how many others would have won 6 frames after 15 been played the way Williams did that day?
          Last edited by david16; 16th June 2013, 06:41 PM.


          • #6
            He lost-it with the cue he won the China with a few years back and climbed back up to no1. It looked and sounded like a real nice bit of wood. 9.7-10mm ferrule, he got lots of action with it, couldn't miss a long ball and made a good % of his mad ones. I think this one now is around 9ish and he don't look the same fella with it.
            New stick at 10mm and get his red-backed waistcoat on, we might see something from him again otherwise, times marching on and we all know he's in it playing for the cash now. That in itself has put him bang under it.
            I wish he well..