The line-up for the Welsh Open quarter-finals is not so much a who’s who of snooker as a who’s that?
The game’s top eight ranked stars have all been eliminated in Newport and only four top-16 players have survived to the last-eight stage.
But among them is one man who spent four seasons as world number one before a slump in form sent him sliding down the rankings.
Indeed, Mark Williams has found to his cost that practice really does make perfect.
The Welshman was on top of the snooker world in October 2003 when he added the LG Cup title to the World, Masters and UK titles he already held, completing a grand slam of BBC tournaments.
Williams was riding high as world number one but decided to take it easy, virtually gave up practising and suffered a series of early exits from the game’s top events.
His situation became so perilous that he was down in 25th in the provisional rankings after last October’s Grand Prix and in grave danger of losing his place not just in the elite top 16 but also the top 32.
That would have meant him having to win two matches to qualify for the TV phase of the 888.com World Championship.
It was this prospect that persuaded the 30-year-old that it was about time he started putting the work in again – and Williams is beginning to reap the benefits by reaching the quarter-finals of the Welsh Open.
He faces world champion Shaun Murphy at the Newport Centre today with a chance to earn more vital ranking points and improve on his current provisional standing of 13th.
“I’ve been practising loads every day, apart from Sundays, and I’m hoping the results will come now,” Williams said.
“I haven’t deserved to win for the last couple of years. I’d turn up to tournaments knowing I was going to lose because I hadn’t practised. Anybody could have beaten me because I didn’t give myself a chance.
“I looked at the rankings this season and I was way down. It was a bit of a joke. I thought I might as well pack it in if I wasn’t going to practise.
“Now I’ve put the work in I just want to keep myself in the top 16 for next season and then see if I can climb back up the rankings.”
Williams beat his fellow Welshman Matthew Stevens 5-1 in the third round yesterday to reach his second successive quarter-final, having made the same phase of the Malta Cup.
Murphy, ranked 21st despite his Crucible triumph last May, edged Stoke’s Jamie Cope 5-4 but Ken Doherty and John Higgins, who contested the Malta Cup final last month, were both beaten.
Doherty, who beat Higgins 9-8 in Portomaso, lost 5-3 to Nottingham’s Anthony Hamilton, whose reward is a quarter-final meeting tonight with Preston’s Ian McCulloch.
Higgins, winner of this season’s Grand Prix and Saga Insurance Masters titles, went down 5-4 to Thailand’s James Wattana, who was meeting Kent’s Barry Hawkins for a semi-final berth.
Stephen Lee was facing Graeme Dott in the day’s first quarter-final.