Williams wins to set up O’Sullivan Final

Mark Williams survived a late charge from Mark Allen to win 10-5 in the semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Tour Championship, setting up his first ranking event final against Ronnie O’Sullivan in 24 years.

From 9-0 down, Allen got half way to what would have been snooker’s greatest ever comeback and his opponent was getting edgy at 9-5, but Williams came up with an excellent break in the 15th frame to get the job done. Having beaten Judd Trump 10-4 in the previous round, the veteran Welshman has scored two of his best results in recent years back-to-back, knocking out two of the top three in the world rankings.

And on Sunday he’ll be up against the world number one, a rival he has known and respected since their junior days, before they both turned professional in 1992, along with John Higgins. The last ranking event final between Williams and O’Sullivan was the 2000 China Open, and tomorrow’s meeting at the superb Manchester Central venue will be a huge occasion. 

“I’m just going to enjoy it,” said Williams. “How many more times is this going to happen? I couldn’t pick a better player to play in a final. I’m going to attack and try my best.”

O’Sullivan leads the head-to-head 33-9, and Williams has won just two of their last 24 meetings, but if the 49-year-old can play as well as he did today, then it could be a classic contest. Williams will be playing in his 41st ranking final and aiming for a 26th title and second of the season having landed the Cazoo British Open in September.

Three-time World Champion Williams took all eight frames of the opening session against Allen, knocking in breaks of 57, 99, 105 and 112. When he took the opener tonight with a 140 total clearance, a remarkable whitewash was on the cards, and it would have been the first televised match to finish 10-0 since Shaun Murphy beat Luo Honghao by that scoreline at the Crucible in 2019. 

Allen, whose never-say-die attitude has won him plenty of matches over the past two seasons, gained a foothold with a break of 65 in frame ten, then reeled off four more with runs of 53, 79, 56 and 69. But Williams knocked in a long red at the start of frame 15 and clinched the result with a break of 75. 

“I was a bit worried at 9-5,” admitted Williams. “I had a couple of chances to win 9-1 or 9-2. Mark played really well after that. If it had gone 9-6 then I was really under it. But the break I made in the last frame was as good as any I made in the match, it’s nice to know I’ve still got that bottle.

“In the first session my safety was really solid, my breaks and long potting were good. I could have easily had six or seven centuries during the match. He had one chance at 5-0 when he missed a tricky blue, apart from that in a lot of frames he was never in them because I tied him up in knots. At the end he wished me best of the luck in the final. Mark is more than capable of winning the world title, as for me, who knows? That’s for other people to say.

“I know I haven’t played Ronnie in a final for a long time but that’s because he keeps beating me before the final!” 

The match gets underway at 1pm on Sunday with eight frames, then the remainder from 7pm. First to ten will lift the trophy and receive £150,000. 

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