MARK WILLIAMS hasn’t beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan in anything meaningful since the 2002 Thailand Masters and will be looking to end a run of 16 successive defeats by the Rocket when they meet in the quarter-finals of the International Championship on Thursday.

This 12 year period included spells where Williams was the best player in the world so O’Sullivan is well and truly his bogeyman. The law of averages suggests all such runs should end at some point but that doesn’t mean it will do so this week.

O’Sullivan didn’t play that well against Li Hang but didn’t have to. Once again he wasn’t put under real pressure. We’ve all seen Ronnie, like anyone else, lose when the game is taken to him but his three opponents have so far been unable to produce the standard of snooker necessary to give him serious problems.

Williams of course can but even this celebrated twice world champion seems a little over-awed by the spectre of snooker’s biggest name. O’Sullivan at the moment looks to be coasting to this title come the weekend.

Williams, though, has had an encouraging week. He is still a better player than most of the tour and he has what it takes to win, with the trophies to back it up. His last major success came three and a half years ago at the German Masters. If he beats O’Sullivan there’s no reason he can’t go all the way in China but that remains a massive if.

Mark Allen won an entertaining Shanghai Masters quarter-final 5-4 against Michael White last month and they meet again on Thursday.

Allen led Stuart Bingham 3-1 in their last 16 encounter but went right off the boil as he fell 4-3 behind. The biggest moment of the match came in the eighth frame when Bingham, very much on top, missed a straight red to a middle pocket. Allen responded with a century, then another and won 6-4.

White has come through below the radar and is plainly gaining in confidence with every win as he garners more experience of these big events.

Marco Fu clawed his way to a 6-4 victory over Rod Lawler and now faces Robert Milkins; Ricky Walden laboured to a 6-4 defeat of Joe Swail and meets Jamie Burnett, who took the long and grinding road to beat Peter Ebdon 6-2.

Crowd attendance has been very disappointing. One of the major reasons, alongside Ding Junhui’s absence, appears to be that the tournament is not actually being played in Chengdu at all but in a small town an hour away, making it difficult for the working population to get to.

It has helped create a flat atmosphere where a good shot is played and the reaction is akin to tumbleweed blowing in the dirt.

Financial investment from China has made several players richer, swelled World Snooker’s coffers and filled up the tournament calendar but more must be done to get people into the venues, as happens in Shanghai and Beijing, because otherwise the game’s image suffers and it provides easy pickings for those in the media who want to sneer at the sport.


Photographs by Monique Limbos.