The Masters started yesterday and immediately produced a high quality, tense match, ending in the demise of the World Champion and World n°1 Mark Selby.
A sell-out crowd in London were treated a superb contest and a dramatic finish as World Champion Selby missed a crucial last red in the deciding frame. That let Williams in to snatch victory and set up a quarter-final clash with Barry Hawkins or Kyren Wilson on Thursday evening (tickets still available – click here for details).
Welsh 42-year-old Williams has had a fine run of results in recent weeks having won the Northern Ireland Open in November – his first ranking title for six years – and climbed to tenth in the world. Selby, by contrast, has struggled for form since winning the International Championship two months ago, suffering early exits at the first two Triple Crown events of the season.
Williams was off to a flying start today with a break of 135 in the opening frame, missing the final black when he had the chance to set a strong target of 142 for the £10,000 tournament high break prize. He went 2-0 up with a run of 89 then Selby hit back to take the next three frames, making two breaks of 70.
Two-time Masters champion Williams made an 81 clearance to take the sixth frame but Selby dominated the next two with a top run of 76 to lead 5-3. And the Leicester cueman looked set for victory in frame nine until he missed the penultimate red to a top corner when leading 47-40 with the balls at his mercy, allowing Williams to clear for 5-4.
In frame ten, Williams led 59-32 when he ran out of position with two reds left. Selby twice went for a tricky red and missed, and his opponent took advantage to force the decider.
Williams had first chance and made 39 before missing a red to a top corner. Three-time Masters king Selby had an opportunity to clear and got to 44 before leaving a tough last red – along the top cushion – in the jaws of the pocket. Again Williams made no mistake as he reached the quarter-finals for the first time since 2013.
“It was an excellent game all round, a great occasion to play in, we both played well and the atmosphere was excellent,” said Williams, who lost 6-5 to Selby in the first round here last year. “They don’t come any tougher than the world number one. To draw myself together and come back was a great win for me.
“Two or three frames up against Selby is nothing, so I had to keep plugging away. I honestly don’t care who I play next, I’m in the quarters now and if I’m still here at the weekend then great.”
Selby, who had won 12 of his previous 13 deciders at the Masters, said: “I’m gutted. I felt I controlled the match from 2-0 down. At 5-3 I tried to roll the red in but got a kick and after that I felt the match could turn on that moment. I nearly pulled off a ridiculous clearance in the last frame but missed the last red. It’s tough to take.”
Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that the kick in frame 9 caused Mark Selby to miss. The images were shown several times and, for me, although the kick clearly made the red jump, it wasn’t thrown out of line. Jimmy White and Neil Robertson, in the ES studio, later expressed the same opinion. Anyway, there were two more frames after that one, frames where Selby had occasions but failed to take them. I expected the match to be exactly what it was: close but ultimately won by Williams who has been the better player throughout the first half of the season and is full of confidence.
In the evening, Mark Allen beat Luca Brecel quite convincingly
Belgium’s Brecel has been struggling to find a cue he likes after losing his own at the International Championship in November, and he entered the arena at Alexandra Palace carrying two cues, using each of them at various times over the course of the match.
Allen also had a unique moment as he was accidentally introduced as Mark Williams by stand-in master of ceremonies Dennis Taylor. Like Williams, who beat Mark Selby earlier in the day, Allen progressed to the quarter-finals in London and he’ll now face Ronnie O’Sullivan or Marco Fu on Thursday afternoon.
World number eight Allen lost the opening frame tonight then took three of the next four with breaks of 86, 135 and 72. Masters debutant Brecel won the sixth with a 32 clearance, including an excellent shot on the final pink, to make it 3-3. And he had a chance in frame seven but was unlucky to go in-off when potting the final brown, trailing by 19 points.
Allen took advantage to regain the lead at 4-3 then eased through the last two frames, closing with a run of 120.
“I felt I was the better player for most of the match,” said Northern Ireland’s Allen, who is making his tenth consecutive appearance at the Masters but has never reached the final. “I wanted to put Luca under pressure at the start because it was his debut here. As the match went on I let myself relax a bit and scored well.
“I have never seen anyone bring two cues into a match before. At first I thought he was trying to get into my head, but I was chatting to him at the interval and he told me the problems he’s been having with his cue situation.”
Asked about his introduction, Allen joked: “I won’t let Dennis forget about that for a while! I don’t envy anyone doing that job because it’s not easy when you’re live and mistakes happen. But that won’t stop me winding Dennis up.”
Mark Allen played really well in patches although he was a bit inconsistent, especially before the MSI. Luca Brecel on the contrary was well below what he’s capable to produce. I’m not sure that bringing two cues and switching between them mid in the course of a match was such a great idea. Surely it doesn’t help consistency?