Mark Williams overcame a shaky start to beat defending champion Yan Bingtao 6-4 in the first round of the Masters.
The Welshman has had a stop-start season due to illness, and he fell two frames behind in front of a packed Alexandra Palace.
However, he kept himself in the hunt and went through the gears after the interval to extend his positive record against Yan.
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Williams got the first piece of table time and compiled one of the great 37 breaks of the season, as he knocked in difficult pot after difficult pot. But after opening things up, he missed a tough pink.
Having negotiated a string of obstacles in his break of 37, leaving the pink over left middle proved decisive as Yan picked off a break of 64 to steal the opener.
The second followed a similar pattern to the opener, as Williams broke down after a hard-working break - 37 again. He got a second bite, but left a red in the jaws of the yellow pocket and a run of 71 allowed Yan to move clear.
After squandering chances in the opening two frames, Williams was under pressure in the third. He missed a long red by a distance but got a second opportunity and laid a fiendish snooker which yielded 24 penalty points and an error from Yan. With the balls well set, the two-time Masters champion hoovered up a break of 63 to get on the board.
Williams did the hard work for Yan in the first two frames and it happened again in the third. The Welshman got in and opened the pack only to fall difficult on the black. It did not drop, and with the reds well split the defending champion pounced for a two-frame lead at the interval courtesy of a 57.
Insect repellent may be required this week, as flies and bees caused problems in the opening session. A fly unsettled Yan in the fifth, and after stepping up off his shot he missed a plant.
It wasn’t fatal, but Williams got in again and after knocking in his trademark underarm shot to pot a yellow along the baulk rail, he left Yan needing a snooker. He laid one on the pink, but it allowed Williams to pull out a party trick.
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With the ball up against the bottom cushion, he lined the escape up one-handed - he has said he prefers to play them like that when tight to the cushion as it allows him to find the angle better - and promptly found the escape and knocked it into the yellow pocket to get back within one frame.
A twirl of the hand as the pink headed for the pocket suggested Williams was in the mood; an excellent long red in the sixth set him up for a break of 62 which ultimately enabled him to draw level.
Breaks of 64 and 67 allowed Williams to get ahead for the first time in the match in the seventh.
After winning the British Open, Williams was laid low by Covid which forced him to miss a string of events. He returned at the UK Championship, but was beaten by Anthony Hamilton and apologised for falling asleep in his chair - as fatigue hit him hard.
A good break over Christmas has seemingly recharged the batteries, and a break of 104 - the first ton of the tournament - moved him 5-3 ahead and within one of victory.
On his run to Masters glory 12 months ago, Yan won his first three matches in the final frame so is no stranger to going deep. After being kept pretty cold for four frames, he got in with a brilliant long red and a run of 122 cut the deficit to one.
As a Class of ‘92 alum, Williams’ talent speaks for itself. But luck is always appreciated, even by the greats. The Welshman got a huge slice of fortune in the 10th.
After stepping up off his shot on account of a noise in the crowd, he rattled the jaws of the bottom left with a long red. The red careered towards the pack, ricocheted off another red and dropped into right middle.
Luck got him in, talent got him over the line. A break of 40 got him in in the 10th and after being forced into a long pot by a good safety from Yan, he drilled a red into the bottom right and it set him up to seal the victory and make it four wins on the spin in tournament play over the 21-year-old.
John Higgins or Zhao Xintong lie in wait in round two.
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