Williams Turns Back Time at the World Snooker Championship

Sportradar began its coverage of the Betfred World Snooker Championship 17 days ago and, an incredible 593 frames, 26,807 shots and 84 century breaks later, Mark Williams has been crowned world champion for a third time.

Our preview suggested that a winning combination would consist of a steady pace of play and previous experience at The Crucible and it turned out to be true. The last men standing turned out to have over 50-years of combined experience in the professional game with Scotland’s John Higgins taking on Welshman Williams for the title and the £425,000 prize.

The bookmakers made Higgins 8/13 favourite at the start of the two-day final, however the pair were more closely matched when looking at their season stats.

And it was Williams who made the early running, taking a four-nil lead after a scrappy first mini-session. Higgins played the better snooker for the rest of the day with eight breaks over 50, including three centuries but it was Williams who held on to hold a 10-7 overnight advantage.

Day two saw the Welshman win all four frames before the mid-session interval once again to open a 14-7 lead. The Scot made a 67-break to stop the rot in frame 22 and stole frame 23 with a 72-clearance and when he added the next with maximum attempt ending on 80, the comeback seemed on. Williams then held his nerve to win frame 25 and lead by five going into the final session.

When the night session came, Higgins was stronger. He took the first five frames to level at 15-all, but Williams regained his composure to win frame 31, before his twelfth century break of the tournament put him within one frame of the title. In the next, he made a break of 63 before missing a routine pink, only to see Higgins clear the table with 65 and keep the match alive. Williams has an uncanny knack of recovering from his mistakes and returned to take the 34th frame in style and become the oldest world champion, since countryman Ray Reardon in 1978.

It was hard to look past pre-tournament favourites Mark Selby and O’Sullivan in the build-up, but both made little impact this time around. Selby suffered a first-round exit against Joe Perry and ‘The Rocket’ fell at the second hurdle to Ali Carter. Once these two were out of the picture, the event took on a different feel, with all eight quarter-finalists making a valid case as worthy champions.

Sportradar’s preview also suggested the chances were good for players with an AST between 22 and 26 seconds who had prior knowledge of snooker’s biggest event.

The potential of Barry Hawkins and Kyren Wilson was highlighted and the pair didn’t disappoint. Hawkins reached the semi-final for the fourth time in five years, losing out 17-15 to Williams, while Wilson was edged 17-13 by Higgins also in the last four.

World Snooker supremo, Barry Hearn, announced during the tournament that from next season the player’s Average Shot Times will be monitored in an attempt to “name and shame slow players”. Sportradar has published the AST since the start of this year and while it has divided opinions it offers a new and interesting comparison of the world’s top players.

As expected, the AST of the 32 players competing at The Crucible was generally slower than their season average, which reflects the longer matches and the importance the players place on the biggest tournament in the calendar.

Despite a combined age for the two finalists of 85 years, snooker is a progressive sport. Since Higgins and Williams turned professional in the ‘class of ‘92’, along with Ronnie O’Sullivan, the game has changed dramatically. It is more attacking. It is increasingly about scoring heavily and winning frames in one visit and all three have adapted their games perfectly.

Add to the mix a tactical awareness unmatched by the younger generation, not only are they still competing at the highest level 26 years later, but arguably have dominated the 2017/18 season by claiming victory in half of the 20 ranking tournaments on the World Snooker Tour.

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Image courtesy of World Snooker.

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