MARK WILLIAMS always did play well in China and did so again today to reach the last 16 of the International Championship with a 6-2 defeat of Barry Hawkins.

Williams has won three ranking titles in China and three more in Thailand. Not everyone enjoys the mechanics of travelling – the hanging about in airports, the jetlag etc – but the Welshman has always made the best of it. This undoubtedly gets harder once you have a family and are away from home for long periods, but that’s the lot of a successful sports person.

Williams has been a professional now for 22 years. He is a member of the celebrated triumvirate who shone in snooker’s class of ’92. Ronnie O’Sullivan is still very much one of the best players in the world. John Higgins, meanwhile, is starting to struggle badly, losing 6-1 to Li Hang in the last 64 in Chengdu earlier in the week.

MJW is in the position Stephen Hendry started to find himself in before calling it a day: he still beats most players below him in the rankings but does not regularly beat those above him. This means he is stuck in a kind of snooker limbo – still a top player but just outside the elite top 16.

This is why it must have been satisfying to beat Hawkins so handsomely because the Kent man has had such a successful time of it of late and is currently the world no.5.

Williams would dearly love to get back into the top 16 in time for the Masters and certainly to avoid having to win three matches to qualify for the Crucible, where he became world champion in 2000 and 2003.

Time moves on for everyone. Williams is even eligible for the World Seniors Championship this season. It will be hard to recapture his form of old on a consistent basis but it doesn’t mean it has gone away for good.

Despite his laidback personality and penchant for wind-ups, he is a very tough competitor in the arena and has the temperament and reputation to hold his own against anyone.

He may have lost a little self belief as results have gone against him in recent times but you write off the greats at your peril. Williams is certainly one of those and one good week could give him the kick-start he needs to stave off decline.


Photographs by Monique Limbos.