So today, John Higgins and Mark Williams, two members of the “Class of 92” will compete in the World Championship Final, both in their 25th season as pros. Ronnie, John Higgins and Mark Williams have already won nine ranking events between them this season: five for Ronnie, two each for Higgins and Williams. Come Monday night together they will have won 10 out of 21 ranking titles in the 2017/18 season, including the two “Triple Crown” ones. That’s both truly remarkable and worrying for the future of the sport.
The semi finals couldn’t have been more different.
John Higgins defeated Kyren Wilson by 17-13. For most of the match, John Higgins played well below his best. He made unforced errors and his positional game was poor by his standards. Kyren Wilson, despite being the heaviest scorer, failed to capitalise enough on John’s mistakes. That was particularly true in the second session. Of course Kyren had never played at the Crucible with just the one table. It’s very intimidating and he needed time to settle. He finished the first session 5-3 down and played catch-up all match. In the last session John Higgins found form and ran away. A more experienced Kyren certainly could, and probably would have won this match.
John Higgins will compete in snooker’s biggest match for the second successive year after defeating Kyren Wilson 17-13 to reach the Betfred World Championship final.
Scotland’s Higgins has lifted silverware at the Crucible on four occasions, but fell just short of a fifth world crown last year. He had looked to be in position for the title when he led Mark Selby 10-4, but fell foul of a fightback and lost out 18-15.
This afternoon’s momentous victory for 42-year-old Higgins sees him become the first player over the age of 40 to reach the world final in consecutive years. He’s also the oldest Crucible finalist since Ray Reardon in 1982, who was aged 49.
In contrast, 26-year-old Wilson’s bid to become the youngest World Champion since Shaun Murphy in 2005 came to an end. However, he did have a landmark win against Mark Allen in the last eight to ensure his passage to the one-table semi-finals for the first time in his career.
Awaiting Higgins in tomorrow’s showpiece match will be either a repeat of the recent Welsh Open final which the Scot was victorious in 9-7 against Barry Hawkins, or a meeting with fellow member of the Class of 92 and two-time World Champion Mark Williams.
The pattern of the semi-final saw Wilson cling to the coat-tails of Higgins. The Warrior was within a frame of the Scot on eight occasions during the tie, but he trailed for the duration of the match.
They came into this afternoon’s concluding session with Higgins’ lead at 13-11 after they shared the frames yesterday evening.
Wilson got off to the perfect start today with a superb break of 90 and pulled within a frame at 13-12. From there 30-time ranking event winner Higgins stamped his authority on proceedings.
He claimed the 27th frame, before a stunning break of 136 saw him move within two of the finish line at 15-12. A contribution of 53 helped Wilson reduce the gap. However, Higgins ruthlessly stormed over the line with runs of 100 and 98 to seal victory.
Higgins said: “I’m so proud that 20 years after I won my first world title, I’m sitting here ready to compete in another final. It’s a fantastic feeling. It would be extra special to play Mark Williams, he’s won it twice before and would be going after a third one. I’ll be going for a fifth.
“Kyren put me under it, but he just couldn’t get level with me. He reminds me so much of Mark Selby when I played him in the final in 2007. They’re different players, but they have a certain aura about them. When Kyren comes to the table, you think he is going to pot everything, and he often does. Maybe his cue ball control isn’t as tight as some other players, but his long potting is phenomenal. He learns from every single match he plays, and I’m sure he’ll do big things here in the future.
“At the time, I felt last year was my best opportunity to win it again. I don’t know how the next game is going to transpire, I might be well behind and not have an opportunity. I just felt that because I was so far in front against Selby that it was a great chance. We’ll need to see how the first day of this final goes.”
Afterwards Wilson admitted that not finishing the opening session level with Higgins could have been a pivotal moment.
Wilson said: “I think in hindsight it is probably down to the very first session. Walking out into the one table setup, I’ll hold my hands up, it was so unique and different to the two tables. The pleasing thing for me is that I didn’t crumble and I really held myself together and battled on. I feel very comfortable out there now.
“I really wanted to get level and see how John would respond to that. When I got within one he just seemed to get stronger, so I wanted to see what would have happened if I did get level.”
Mark Williams beat Barry Hawkins by 17-15, having never been in front until the 31st frame when he went 16-15 up. Both players played fantastic for three sessions, with Mark Williams – who finished the first session 5-3 behind – getting level twice, at 5-5 and 10-10, but never in front. Then in the last session both seemed to feel the pressure and it became a bit of a twitch fest. That was quite understandable: this was Barry’s fifth semi final in the last six years, but he managed to get to the final only once, Mark’s last final appearance was in 2003 an,d last year he failed to even qualify. Eventually Mark showed why he’s a double World Champion, he remained the most positive of the two, and got himself over the line. Some of the shots Mark Williams came up with in this match were incredible: surely he’s the most creative shotmaker on the tour for sure!
Mark Williams won an epic battle with Barry Hawkins 17-15 to clinch his place in the Betfred World Championship final, 15 years after his last appearance in the showpiece match.
Williams was World Champion in 2000 and 2003 and his remarkable return to snooker’s biggest match is the longest gap between Crucible final appearances.
On a night of high drama, both players looked edgy as a shroud of tension descended upon the Theatre of Dreams.
They came into the session with Hawkins leading two-time World Champion Williams 13-11. However, 43-year-old Williams resolutely stuck to his task and reeled the Hawk in, trailing by just one at 15-14. There was then an extraordinary 30th frame.
Hawkins had an opportunity to clinch the frame, but missed the third last red. Williams stepped up to the plate with a sublime clearance of 42 to steal, which included a phenomenal positional shot from the black to the yellow.
Welshman Williams then claimed a scrappy 31st frame to lead for the first time in the match. Both players spurned opportunities under considerable pressure in the next. Hawkins was looking to force a decider and Williams aiming to edge over the line.
They eventually came down to the final pink, with the clock just shy of midnight. Hawkins turned down a difficult shot across the top cushion. He didn’t receive another opportunity at a pot, with Williams eventually firing in a long range pink and depositing the black to seal a nerve shredding win.
Victory sees the Welshman set up a showdown with legendary 42-year-old Scot John Higgins, who has tasted World Championship glory in Sheffield on four occasions. The meeting between two of snooker’s Class of 92 will be the first ever Crucible final to be contested between two players over the age of 40.
Williams and Higgins boast a wealth of experience and honours to their names. They have 50 ranking titles between them, with Williams having won 20 and Higgins holding 30 titles. The longevity of their success can be illustrated by the fact that regardless of who is victorious on Monday evening, the winner will become the oldest World Champion since Ray Reardon in 1978.
“I’m knackered,” said Williams. “I haven’t felt that nervous since I beat Stephen Hendry on a re-spotted black in the (1998) Masters final. I was gone in the end, I couldn’t pot three balls on the trot. Luckily for me Barry was feeling the pressure. We both collapsed. It must have been great to watch, it was like two pub players trying to get over the line.
“I’m over the moon to be in the final. I got there in the end, I don’t know how. Somehow I managed to pot a really good pink. I thought I had missed the last black, but when it dropped in I was so relieved.
“My arms and legs didn’t feel like mine. I had no feeling in my arms at all. The last thing I wanted was to play another frame. The drama and the atmosphere out there was unbelievable. I forgot how good that arena is with one table, it’s been so long.
“I’ve just got to go out there and enjoy the final. Hopefully if it does go close towards the end, I won’t collapse like a cheap tent again. I’ve grown up with John, played him in all the tournaments, and now we’re in the final of the World Championship. It’s unbelievable, I can’t wait.”
Hawkins said: “The final frame was brutal, we were both twitching all over the place. I felt good at 15-14, I was in the balls and felt quite composed, but I took my eye off a red, and from then on I started twitching.
“Mark played a lot of clever shots, good safeties, and kept potting good long balls and battling away like he does. He’s a class player, one of the all-time greats.
“I’ve played pretty well for most of the tournament, and I fancied getting to the final. Tonight I let myself down a little bit.”
So, who is going to lift the trophy on Monday night? It’s hard to tell actually. If they both play like they did in the first three sessions, it should be Williams, if they play like they did in their last session, it will be Higgins. Higgins will start the fresher of the two today, but Williams is the fittest and this might well be a huge factor tomorrow, if he manages to at least stay close on the first day.
My head is saying Higgins, my heart wants Williams. Go Willo!
Finally, the Eurosport pundits had an interesting discussion at the end of the match, all in agreement that the tournament is too long. I’m certain that most fans will strongly disagree, but then the fans are just sitting and watching, the players have to compete and it’s completely different. Mark Selby was advocating for the QF being shortened to best of 19, the SF to best of 31 (it was best of 31 in the early 90th BTW) and the Final best of 33. I wouldn’t want to see the QF being best of 19 personally. What I would like to see though is the tournament to start on the Friday evening, and the schedule rearranged so that there would be only two sessions on the SF Saturday, making sure that none of the finalists has to cope with a late night finish. Don’t forget that when the match is over, both players have media duties and the winner still has filming to do with the BBC. It would be even better actually if the tournament started on a Thursday and finished on Sunday because … outside the UK, the Monday is a working day. There is no such thing as a “Bank Holiday”. If the game is to become truly global, then maybe, this should be taken intio account?
And a bit of Ronnie punditry