Mark Williams hailed Alexandra Palace as the best arena he has played in, after beating defending Cazoo Masters champion Yan Bingtao 6-4 on day one in North London.
The Welshman is competing at the Masters for the 24th time this week. He famously won the first of his two Masters titles 24 years ago, when he defeated Stephen Hendry 10-9 on a re-spotted black in the decider. Next up this week he faces either John Higgins or Zhao Xintong in the quarter-finals on Thursday evening.
Williams has had an up and down season so far. He started superbly by claiming his 24th career ranking title at the British Open, beating Gary Wilson in the final. Following that win he has suffered difficulties with both gout and Covid-19 and his deepest run saw him reach the last 16 of the Northern Ireland Open. On today’s evidence he looks to be back in top form.
Yan will be disappointed to exit his title defence at the first hurdle. The Chinese 21-year-old was making his Alexandra Palace debut this afternoon. He won the title on his maiden Masters appearance 12 months ago. The event was forced behind closed doors in Milton Keynes, where Yan secured a stunning 10-8 defeat of John Higgins to lift the Paul Hunter Trophy.
When play got underway, Yan showed no signs of early nerves as he fired in breaks of 64 and 71 to move into an early 2-0 advantage. Williams replied with a run of 63 to take the third and had the first opportunity in the fourth. However, he missed a tricky black on 15 and Yan stepped in with a frame winning contribution of 57 to lead 3-1 at the mid-session.
When play resumed Williams reduced his arrears by claiming the fifth in dramatic fashion. With Yan requiring a snooker on the pink, he left Williams in a tricky position behind the black. Williams proceeded to come off the side cushion and hit the pink, fortuitously potting it in a baulk corner to lead 3-2.
The 46-year-old from Cwm then turned the heat up on Yan, with further runs of 62, 67, 64 and 104 to make it four frames on the bounce and lead 5-3.
Yan refused to throw in the towel and kept himself in the tie with a superb break of 122. However, Williams wasn’t to be denied and sealed his 6-4 win after firing in a contribution 85.
“This is such a hard tournament to win, especially when you have John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry about. It is just nice to be in these venues. The atmosphere was electric. I just have to enjoy it more, because I’m not going to keep coming back here year after year,” said three-time World Champion Williams.
“I didn’t think anything would ever beat the Wembley Conference Centre but I think now I have to admit this is the best venue we’ve ever played in. You have the big lounge at the back of the stands, the sofas at the other end. It is a massive arena and it is hard to generate an atmosphere like that. I don’t think you can.
“I’d like to play John next. We’ve been around forever. He’s getting older, greyer and balder. I’m getting older, greyer and balder. There would be a fantastic crowd and it would just be like the Crucible back in 2018. It would be brilliant.”
Yan said: “We both played very well this afternoon. Mark was great today, he made every long pot and every difficult shot. I lost today but I am happy because I played well. That was the best I’ve played this season.
“I enjoyed it out there. I had a lot of pressure as it was very different to last year having 2,000 people watching the match. This was my first time at Ally Pally. Today I played well and I enjoyed the arena.”