Williams back on form

Mark Williams believes his China Open success makes him a real contender for next month’s 888.com World Championship.

Mark Williams believes his China Open success makes him a real contender for next month’s 888.com World Championship.

Williams edged John Higgins 9-8 in Beijing to win one of the hardest-fought major finals on record.

Neither player could get more than a frame in front during an epic battle for the last ranking tournament before the action turns to Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre on April 15.

But the world final will not be a repeat of the Williams-Higgins China duel as the pair are seeded to meet in the second round of the game’s biggest event.

Whoever comes through that match is likely to face Ronnie O’Sullivan in easily the toughest quarter of the draw.

Higgins, winner of the Grand Prix and Saga Masters titles this season, was an obvious favourite to progress before the Beijing event.

But Williams will be heading to Sheffield as the form horse for the 17-day snooker marathon.

“A few months ago I didn’t fancy beating anyone but I’m going to the World Championship full of confidence,” the Welshman said.

“Now, I feel I can beat anyone, even though the bottom half of the draw is so tough that it’s a joke.”

Williams was stationed a precarious 25th in the provisional rankings earlier this season but goes to the World Championship seventh in the standings.

The 31-year-old, twice a winner at the Crucible, freely admits he got lazy after completing the grand slam of BBC televised tournaments by winning the LG Cup in October 2003.

It proved to be his last title for 29 months until Williams edged Higgins for the Beijing trophy.

Quarter-final appearances in the Malta Cup and Welsh Open helped restore some much-needed confidence and Williams was able to up his game when it mattered, beating Stephen Hendry and Ding Junhui en route to the China final.

“I was sneaking matches here and there and came here with a couple of quarter-finals under my belt, which guaranteed my top-16 spot,” he said.

“My confidence has come back. Quarter-finals were almost as good as finals for me and I could build from there.”

Higgins was beaten 9-8 from 8-5 up by Ken Doherty in the Malta Cup final last month and was left to rue another near miss.

The final was eventually resolved when Higgins narrowly failed to pot a long green in the decider, allowing Williams in to claim the £30,000 (€44,000) first prize.

“Most of my game is really strong and I feel good but I have got a tough draw at the Crucible,” said Higgins, whose first-round opponent at Sheffield is Leicester’s Mark Selby.

“It could be Mark [Williams] again in the second round but that’s the way you want it sometimes. You don’t always want easy games because that’s how you can come unstuck, thinking you are going to get through a couple of rounds.”

The China Open gave Williams his 16th ranking event victory, one fewer than Higgins, while O’Sullivan has 18, Steve Davis 28 and Stephen Hendry 36.

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