Mark Williams came from 9-5 down to beat David Gilbert 10-9 in a thrilling final to win the Hong Rui Ma Yushan World Open for the first time.
Last season was an epic one for 43-year-old Williams as he won three ranking titles including the World Championship, and he has started the new campaign in the same fashion. The trophy takes his career tally of ranking titles to 22 while the £150,000 top prize takes his earnings for the past year well over £1 million.
It was a week of comebacks for Welshman Williams as he also trailed Jack Lisowski 3-0 in the quarter-finals and Noppon Saengkham 5-2 in the semis, yet still ended up with the silverware. An aura of invincibility seemed to surround him throughout the tournament in China. He climbs one place to second in the rankings, moving ahead of Ronnie O’Sullivan, and looks well placed to take over from Mark Selby at the top of the list before the end of 2018.
And it was cruel end to a great week for former tractor driver Gilbert as he missed out on a first career ranking title and a jump into the world’s top 16. He played superbly to lead 9-5 but, inevitably, the last frame proved the hardest to win. The finishing post remained tantalisingly out of reach as Williams, who never led until the end, swept past him with a late surge. It’s a painful defeat for the 37-year-old from Tamworth though the runner-up prize of £75,000 – his best career pay day – and a jump from 29th to 20th in the rankings, are big consolations.
Trailing 5-4 after the first session, Williams had first chance in the opening frame this evening and made 58 before missing the black to a top corner. Gilbert cleared superbly with 68 then compiled a break of 95 in the next to lead 7-4.
In frame 12 Williams had first chance again, but missed the black to a corner pocket at 38-0. Gilbert was ruthless, clearing with 95 to go four frames ahead. The Englishman had another frame-winning chance in the 13th but this time could only make 15 before missing a red to a centre pocket, and Williams made 54 to claw back to 8-5 at the interval.
Williams led 27-19 in frame 14 when he missed a risky long red, and Gilbert took full advantage with a break of 84 to go four up with five to play. In the 15th, Gilbert led 39-4 when he missed a red to a corner pocket, and a run of 76 from Williams got him back to 9-6. The tide seemed to be turning as Williams took the next with a run of 41 to close to within two frames.
Gilbert had a chance to clear from 55-1 down in the 17th, and got to the final blue before missing a tough pot to a baulk corner. He later played a weak safety and Williams potted the blue for 9-8. Minutes later it was 9-9, Williams making a break of 72.
Gilbert had first clear chance in the decider but missed a red to a corner pocket at 18-1. Williams, calmness personified, made 64 to take control. And when he potted the penultimate red, one of his best ever comebacks was complete.
“At 9-5 down I was almost out,” said three-time World Champion Williams. “To win three matches I have looked like losing is unbelievable. I never give up or let my head drop, no matter what the score is. I never let my opponent see that I’m losing heart, and then sometimes it does turn around. Whatever is going on, you have to stick in there.
“I feel for David, he didn’t have that many clear cut chances. I played really well from 9-5 and put him under pressure. I won it more than he lost it. It’s a good shout to say my all round game is as good if not better than it ever has been. Perhaps my long potting is not as good as it used to be, but my all round game is probably better now and the results are showing that at the moment.
“When I get home I’ll be straight to the caravan park then I have to decide whether to have a drink to celebrate the World Championship win or a drink to celebrate this one. Or I might just double up and do both.”
Gilbert, whose only previous ranking final ended in defeat to John Higgins at the 2015 International Championship, said: “It has been a good week but sadly it has ended in one of the most disappointing things that has ever happened to me. I have to congratulate Mark because he saw it off.
“I’m confused about what happened because I felt fine at 9-5. I butchered a red in that frame then it turned around. In the last frame I didn’t feel good, I couldn’t get position and I missed a red I would normally pot. The occasion got to me. I’m playing in the qualifiers next week so we go again.”
Defeat for Gilbert means he misses out on next month’s invitational Shanghai Masters, with Anthony McGill clinging on to 16th place in the rankings. For the provisional seedings click here.