China Championship 2018

Relieved Williams Earns Gilbert Final

Mark Williams got the better of a late night thriller against Noppon Saengkham, coming from 5-2 down to win 6-5 at the Hong Rui Ma Yushan World Open.

Williams goes through to the final in China to face David Gilbert, with first to ten frames to take the trophy and a top prize of £150,000. That would bring the Welshman’s earnings since the start of last season to well over £1 million.

World number three Williams recovered a 3-0 deficit to beat Jack Lisowski yesterday and once again had to fight back from well behind, but showed his trademark calmness under pressure at the business end of the match. Thailand’s Saengkham was left to rue a missed opportunity as he passed up the chance to reach his first ranking final.

On Sunday Williams will be playing in the 34th ranking final of his career and aiming for his 22nd ranking title. Three of those have come within the past nine months as he won the Northern Ireland Open and German Masters last season before capping off the campaign by landing the World Championship. He’ll start strong favourite against Gilbert, who has never won a ranking event.

The first two frames tonight were shared, then Saengkham could have taken the third but missed the final brown, allowing Williams to snatch it by clearing to the black. A superb 142 total clearance – the highest break of the tournament so far – got Saengkham back to 2-2.

Williams looked likely to win the fifth frame when he led by 21 points on the blue, but his opponent laid an excellent snooker behind the black to gain the points he needed. Saengkham then got the better of a safety exchange and potted blue, pink and black to go ahead.

The Thai dominated the next two frames with top runs of 56 and 59 to go 5-2 up. But Saengkham potted just two balls in the next three frames as Williams battled back to 5-5 with breaks of 44, 40, 56 and 64.

Both players missed chances early in the deciding frame, then the crucial moment came when Saengkham botched a safety shot leading 20-17. Williams made a crucial break of 34 which proved enough for victory, the match ending at 11.40pm local time.

“When you’re free-rolling you get the rub of the green,” said Williams. “When I went 3-2 down everything went against me. He was the much better player and I found it hard to get a rhythm going. At 5-2 I just wanted to keep him under pressure, I found another gear and got a bit of fluency going. At 5-5 I fancied my chances because we were playing for over £40,000 for one frame and that’s a lot of pressure so I knew he would start feeling it. I got out of jail.

“If I lose I don’t care because I’ll be living off the Crucible win for the rest of my career. If I can nick another tournament along the way then great, if not I don’t mind. There’s no pressure tomorrow, I’ll just enjoy it.”