A brilliant fightback victory helped Mark Williams win his first major ranking title in more than six years and also broke a teenager’s heart in a thrilling Northern Ireland Open final.
Williams lifted his first ranking title since the 2011 German Masters after he came back from 6-3 and 8-7 down to beat the talented 17-year-old Yan Bingtao who fell one frame short of becoming snooker’s youngest ranking title winner.
The 42-year-old becomes the second player to lift the Alex Higgins Trophy joining Mark King who was the surprise winner a year ago.
Two-times world champion Williams, who at his peak dominated the game after Stephen Hendry’s period of dominance throughout the 1990s, now has 19 ranking titles to his name and also found him £70,000 richer after clinching a thrillling win in Belfast. Incredibly this was Williams’s first ranking victory in the UK for 14 years.
The only time Williams led the gripping contest was when he won a nervy final frame to take the match.
But it was a game which saw Bingtao dominate for most periods. The 17-year-old playing in his first ranking final showed no signs of nerves as he took an early 3-1 lead.
A century break from Williams reduced his deficit to 3-2 but Bingtao continued his dominance earning a 5-3 lead going into the evening session.
And it looked like Bingtao would be rewriting snooker’s history books when a break of 137 – his highest of his career saw him go 6-3 ahead after the restart.
Mark Williams’s Route to Northern Ireland Open Glory
R1 beat James Wattana 4-0
R2 beat Tom Ford 4-0
R3 beat Akani Songsermsawad 4-1
R4 beat David Gilbert 4-2
Quarter-Final beat Mike Dunn 5-1
Semi-Final beat Elliot Slessor 6-2
Final beat Yan Bingtao 9-8
But Williams then began to get a stranglehold in the final as victory in the tenth frame was folowed by breaks of 90 and 58 which moved him level at 6-6.
Pressure was increasing on Bingtao but it never looked to be the case as the teenager responded by regaining the lead with a break of 59. Williams levelled again to set up a close and exciting finish at 7-7.
But Bingtao once again showed great nerves of steel to come out on top in a close fifteenth frame which was decided following a crucial safety battle deep into the frame. Bingtao was one away from winning the title.
However it was not to be as Williams had other ideas. First he forced a final frame decider with a vital break of 49 before he he managed to secure a crucial 70 point lead inn the final frame which was too much for Yan to chase.
Williams has now moved up five places in the world rankings – now in 11th place going into the UK Championship.
Despite defeat Bingtao can take many positives after another impressive tournament showed what an exciting future he has in the game.
A run to the final in Belfast has followed up a promising career so far. Recently he made the semi-finals of the International Championship beating Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins along the way. He also pushed Shaun Murphy very close in his first ever match at the World Championship.
Now in the top 32 of the world rankings, his talent is already earning him big rewards.