WORLD SNOOKER CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL PREVIEW
The World Championship plays its final act at the Crucible Theatre and Richard Mann is relishing the prospect of seeing two greats of the game do battle for the biggest prize in snooker.
As picture-perfect finals go, the romantics couldn’t have wished for a better showpiece, two of the best players to have ever played the sport defying father time and a host of exciting young talent to be the last two men standing in Sheffield.
For Higgins, last year’s runner-up, just to pick himself up from that heart breaking defeat to Mark Selby has been an impressive display of mental resilience and a record fifth Welsh Open success earlier in the year proved that he remains one of the best players on the tour.
Meanwhile, Williams’ story is even more remarkable.
Winner here in 2000 and 2003, when firmly established as one of the ‘big four’ along with Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry, Williams had seen a dramatic downturn in his fortunes over the last few years.
So bad was his form, he was close to retirement at the conclusion of last season, only for his wife to persuade him to play on this term.
A new coach and a new approach to his game has seen Williams back to his best in last few months and victories in the Northern Ireland Open and German Masters confirmed the Welshman to be a major force again.
Along with those title wins, it has been Williams' consistency that has been most pleasing, with a host of quarter-final finishes showing his game to have the consistency so badly missing over the last few years.
Higgins, too, continues to prove that the next generation of snooker talent have a long way to go to reach the levels that himself, Williams and O’Sullivan have so impressively reached and his performances in the last two weeks have been a joy to watch.
In Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Higgins faced a first-round opponent of real talent and despite a late surge from the exciting debutant, the four-time Crucible winner had far too many guns over the course of an excellent match.
Jack Lisowski was another well-touted potter expected to put it up to the Scot, but the latter dominated from the outset and went on to win their second-round clash at a canter 13-1.
His 13-12 quarter-final victory over Judd Trump came in one of the best matches to have ever been played at the Crucible, Higgins producing snooker from the Gods to haul himself over the line having trailed 7-3 and 11-9.
What won Higgins that epic encounter wasn’t, for once, his fine tactical play, which remains first class, but the 42-year-old blew the destructive Trump away with aggression, heavy scoring and some extraordinary potting under pressure.
It was a masterclass and while he wasn’t at his best in his last-four clash with the excellent Kyren Wilson, he again proved too streetwise for the young pretender who could never land a glove on Higgins.
Williams eased through his early rounds, Jimmy Robertson and Robert Milkins proving nothing more than a warm up for the left-hander who then beat Ali Carter in the quarter-finals.
Having knocked out O’Sullivan in the previous round, Carter was fancied by many to have the edge over Williams but some brilliant snooker, including four century breaks, saw the latter win comfortably 13-8.
Williams faced a much sterner challenge against Barry Hawkins in the semi-finals but having trailed throughout the match, produced a terrific late surge to get over the line 17-15.
It proved to be another Crucible epic, a packed crowd soaking up an electric atmosphere as the clock ticked towards midnight.
It was Williams who held himself together best, though, a superb long pink and a cut-back black sealing his victory.
It was tough luck on Hawkins who has played brilliantly all throughout the tournament but like Higgins, the 43-year-old Williams has again proved that the class of 92 remains one step ahead of the closing pack.
We may not see likes of Higgins and Williams again so these moments should be savoured and this final enjoyed for what it is, a battle between two of the greatest.
The Times They Are A Changin.'
Not right now, not in this sport.