Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Crucible Countdown: 11 days to go

Closer and closer we roll to this year's Betfred.com World Championship.

We're down to just 11 days to go.

With the chances of Neil Robertson and John Higgins already assessed, OnCue continues its Crucible Countdown today with a closer look at another of this year's title front runners.

Only one player has picked up more ranking points this season than the current world number one Mark Williams and he's back performing to the levels which saw him lift the title in 2000 and 2003.

He's already being widely-tipped to capture his third championship this time round.

It's hard to put your finger on exactly why Williams is back playing snooker like he was almost a decade ago.

But believe me, it's happening.

He was unfortunate to lose in the opening round of the China Open last week. Despite stringing together four centuries in that match, Stephen Lee pipped him 5-4. But that was just a blip.

Williams has been playing sensationally well this season. Just like the good old days, it doesn't matter how close you put him to the baulk cushion, there's always a chance he can knock in a red. He's the best single-ball potter the game has ever produced.

At one point in 2003, Williams held every BBC snooker title going. He was on the top of his game and verging on the untouchable.

But then he went in to decline, plummeting as low as number 48 in the provisional world rankings in the 2007/08 season.

But those days are long behind him, and the Welsh Potting Machine is back in the groove.

While journalists like to get excited, there's probably an argument that Williams is still a fraction away from his best, but he's still almighty close. And the most important thing is that he's back playing tournament-winning snooker.

He proved that when he won the German Masters earlier this year, and he can also feel aggrieved to have lost out on winning his third UK title. After leading Higgins 9-5 in that final, he somehow lost 10-9 after one of the most remarkable final comebacks of all time.

Williams has never been the kind of guy to dwell on his disappointments, so we've not seen any repercussions or confidence issues off the back of that.

And his approach to the game right now is fairly simple. He's in a position where he has nothing to prove but he's enjoying his snooker again, so is playing a relaxed game. If he can keep that mentality at this year's tournament, he'll have as big shout as anyone of winning it.

The only slight hindrance to Williams could be if he lets any levels of doubt creep into his mind. He hasn't been back to the one-table set-up at the Crucible since winning the title in 2003, and he's made it to the quarter-finals just once in that spell. 

By the same token, he hasn't been back to Sheffield playing as well as he is now in all of that time either.

He faces his Welsh compatriot Ryan Day in the first round. Playing against a good friend is something he won't relish, but equally he's never let sentiments get in the way of his snooker in the past, so I install Williams as a warm favourite to progress to the last 16, and enjoy a good run in the competition.

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