Mark Williams has claimed his 19th ranking title after a stunning 9-8 defeat of Chinese teenager Yan Bingtao in the Dafabet Northern Ireland Open final in Belfast.
The two-time World Champion was either behind or level right until the final frame today, in what was one of the most enthralling matches of the season so far.
Williams’ last ranking victory came at the 2011 German Masters. His win tonight ends a spell of 14 years without ranking silverware on UK soil, where he last tasted glory in the 2003 LG Cup in Preston.
The Welshman stands alone in fifth place in the all-time list of ranking titles won. He’s now six ahead of Mark Selby and Ding Junhui who have won 13 titles.
Williams can now look forward to the Dafabet Masters in January after securing his place at the showpiece invitational event. He will also climb back to 11th in the world rankings.
17-year-old Chinese prodigy Yan came agonisingly close to eclipsing Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record as the youngest ever winner of a ranking event. However, he will have to settle for the runner-up spot in his maiden appearance in a ranking final.
The afternoon session saw Yan seize the initiative, earning himself a 5-3 advantage coming into this evening’s all important final session.
Yan came roaring out of the blocks tonight by making the highest break of his career, a run of 137, to move 6-3 ahead.
However, Williams showed his steel to claim the tenth frame and runs of 90 and 58 saw him draw level at 6-6. They then traded blows before a thrilling fifteenth.
Yan had looked set to take the frame before breaking down on 60. Williams then had an opportunity to steal the frame, but landed awkwardly on the final red, which he missed with his run at 45. An extended safety battle ensued, before Yan eventually moved one from victory at 8-7.
Williams levelled and then took the final two frames to take home the title on the decider and claim the Alex Higgins Trophy 9-8.
Williams said: “Everything I threw at him, he was just potting long ones for fun and making breaks. You have to realise that he is only a 17-year-old. That is unbelievable. He was only one frame from breaking Ronnie’s record. If he keeps improving like that he is going to be winning many titles.
“I said to myself a while ago if I could get to 20 ranking titles I would be over the moon. You never know now. I just need one more.
“Up until six or eight months ago I thought I was never going to get another title. I have changed coach to Steve Feeney and he has helped me loads.
“My only aim for the season was qualifying for the Masters. I’ve done that now and my next one is to try and qualify for the Crucible.”
Yan was disappointed not to claim the silverware in his maiden ranking final. However, he was reflective upon what he achieved and positive about his chances of reaching further finals.
“I am disappointed not to beat the record,” said the 2016/17 Rookie of the Season. “But I will always have another chance so I will look to the next event.
“I really liked the venue, the crowd and the fans in Belfast. I’m looking forward to next year here.
“After this, I feel confident despite losing because I reached the final. I know how to handle this occasion so I will aim high for more finals rather than semi-finals.”