Mark Williams beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in a Triple Crown event for the first time in 23 years, winning 6-5 in a mesmerising quarter-final clash at the Cazoo Masters.
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Williams made two centuries and four more breaks over 50, coming from 3-0 and 4-2 down in an epic battle at Alexandra Palace, watched by 2,000 fans who gave both players a standing ovation at the start of the contest. It’s the Welshman’s first win over O’Sullivan since 2014, and first in a Triple Crown event since the 2000 UK Championship semi-finals.
Williams and O’Sullivan have been rivals on the table since they turned pro in 1992
The 47-year-old is the first man into the semi-finals in London and will meet Jack Lisowski or Hossein Vafaei on Saturday at 1pm. Champion in 1998 and 2003, Williams is into the last four of this event for the sixth time and second consecutive year.
O’Sullivan misses this opportunity to become the first player to win a Triple Crown event on eight occasions; he remains on seven titles apiece at the UK Championship, Masters and World Championship. Spurred on by an enthusiastic crowd, he looked strong in the early exchanges but was outplayed from 4-2.
World number one O’Sullivan made a fine start with a break of 115, then dominated frame two and made a 79 in the third for 3-0. In frame four, O’Sullivan led 31-16 when he ran out of position, and Williams gained a foothold by clipping in a long red to initiate a break of 55. After the interval, the Welshman compiled a break of 83 to draw within a frame at 3-2.
O’Sullivan got the better of frame six to double his advantage, then world number seven Williams responded with a fabulous 143 total clearance, the new front-runner for the £15,000 high break prize. A run of 90 from the Cwm cueman levelled the tie at 4-4. In frame nine, O’Sullivan was 50-1 ahead when he missed a tricky red to a centre pocket, and his opponent took advantage with a tremendous 59 clearance to go ahead for the first time. Back came the Rocket with a run of 77 to set up the decider.
World Champion O’Sullivan had one early chance but missed the black after potting the first red. Williams made 30 before running out of position, but got back in with a delightful long red and sealed the result in style with a 102.
“I have been on the wrong end of so many deciding frames, it’s nice to finally win one, especially against Ronnie,” said Williams. “For the first three frames he was magnificent, his safety and break-building, I was thinking it could be 6-1 or 6-0. Then I made a nice break for 3-1 to stick in there. I got back into it, put pressure on him and he started to miss a few. I made a really good clearance to go 5-4 up and a century in the last frame – it’s nice to know I can do that when I need to.
“The crowd was unbelievable. We had a second standing ovation before the last frame. I was trying my guts out, and for the first time ever against Ronnie, I felt the crowd turned and most of them were behind me. I have never felt that before, and that gave me a lift and maybe put more pressure on him.
“Overall my form is really good, given my age. I’m not going to improve at this stage of my career. It’s only you (the media) who keep reminding me I haven’t beaten him for a long time! If my bogey player is the greatest of all time then I’ll take that on the chin.”
O’Sullivan said: “The snooker Gods did the right thing today, it would have been a liberty if I had won that match. He was by far the better player and deserved to win. I didn’t score – I was only making bits and pieces and missed a few easy balls. You shouldn’t win matches at this level when you don’t make breaks. I competed today and couldn’t give any more, but if the breaks aren’t going in then you have to fall over the line or hope your opponent makes mistakes. It nearly happened but I didn’t have enough.”