John Higgins and Mark Williams contested the most lucrative match in the history of the sport, with a top prize of £425,000.
The 2018 Betfred World Championship was one of the most pulsating showings of snooker in recent memory. It all ended with a Crucible final for the ages, but the road to a classic contest between two giants of the baize was an epic one…
Mark Selby had imperiously reigned as World Champion for the past two years, winning ten consecutive matches in Sheffield and lifting the title in 2016 and 2017. However, his tenure as the King of the Crucible was brought to a shuddering halt in the opening round by world number 22 Joe Perry after a 10-4 loss.
The world number one was gracious in defeat and when asked whether he was going to watch the rest of the event, Selby jokingly quipped: “No. I am going to sell all my TVs and buy some new ones in three weeks’ time.”
That can’t have gone very far to help the Jester from Leicester avoid the action, as he went on to join Eurosport’s punditry team for the rest of the tournament.
Ronnie O’Sullivan also achieved a landmark moment in his 10-7 victory over 2004 UK Champion Stephen Maguire. The Rocket incredibly clocked up his thousandth frame won at the Crucible. He’s only the second player to ever reach that milestone, after Stephen Hendry who has won 1,068.
The drama and the intensity ramped up in the second round, as a fiery atmosphere descended on the Crucible. That came in the shape of an ill-tempered showdown between Ali Carter and O’Sullivan.
Carter went into the clash with an unenviable 14-0 deficit against the Rocket in their head-to-head record. He led for the majority of the game, but a flash point came in frame 19, where heated words were exchanged after a clash of shoulders. Referee Paul Collier had to step in to defuse the situation.
The Captain went on to secure the tie 13-9 and roared with delight after clinching the match. Afterwards Carter said: “He will do anything he can to win, and so will I. He barged me, but I’m sorry, I’m not going to be bullied by anyone. I’ve been through a lot in my life, much harder things than a shoulder barge from someone.”
John Higgins also equalled the record for the most comprehensive second round victory, defeating Jack Lisowski by a crushing 13-1 scoreline.
Higgins and Judd Trump provided one of the matches of the tournament in a thrilling last eight encounter.
The meeting was a repeat of their epic 2011 World Championship final, where John Higgins was victorious 18-15 amid a red hot atmosphere at the famous Sheffield venue. This year the duo produced another memorable clash.
Higgins trailed for the majority of the match, including 7-3 and 11-9 deficits. However, the Wizard of Wishaw stormed back to secure a thrilling 13-12 win and afterwards admitted that he was savouring the electric atmosphere generated in the Theatre of Dreams.
Higgins said: “It’s an unbelievable venue, even if I had lost that match, the buzz was incredible. It was just a great feeling. I don’t know how many more times I’ll be coming back and having those feelings.”
In a tournament full of flash points and high drama it all boiled down to three ferociously contested matches, starting with the semi-finals.
Mark Williams and Barry Hawkins fought out a nerve jangling battle. The two-time Crucible king Williams, who was competing in his first semi-final since 2011, eventually emerged a 17-15 victor.
Both players spurned numerous chances in the final session as Williams nipped at the heels of Hawkins, who was never behind until the 31st frame. Eventually Williams edged over the line 17-15, depositing the winning black at 11:50pm.
A relieved Williams said: “My arms and legs didn’t feel like mine. I had no feeling in my arms at all. The last thing I wanted was to play another frame. The drama and atmosphere out there was unbelievable. I forgot how good that arena is with one-table, it’s been so long.”
John Higgins came through the other semi-final after holding off 26-year-old Kyren Wilson to secure a 17-13 victory.
Higgins and Williams, two behemoths of the baize, clashed in the final. The pair held six world titles between them prior to the match, with Higgins having won four and Williams two. They provided unforgettable drama.
Williams last appeared in the world final 15 years ago with his victory in 2003. It was the longest ever gap between appearances in a Crucible final and he made the most of his remarkable return to snooker’s final of finals.
The Welshman led 14-7, before Higgins reeled him in with an inevitably gritty fightback. The Scot made numerous steely clearances to get back on level terms at 15-15. You would have been forgiven for thinking Higgins would then push on to victory at that stage. However, Williams made an unflappable blitz towards the finish post as he moved 17-15 ahead.
Williams had looked set to secure victory, but missed match ball on a break of 63. Higgins fired in a run of 65 to keep his hopes alive. Williams wasn’t to be denied and got himself over the line with a break of 69 to claim his third world title.
“What a match to be involved in,” said Williams. “The break in the last frame was one of the best I’ve made under pressure in my life. What an occasion, to play John at the Crucible in the final is unbelievable. I’m so happy I won.”
If the dramatic nature of his victory wasn’t enough, Williams also made good on his word to conduct his winning press conference naked. He appeared dressed in nothing but a Betfred towel to meet the press.
Most Centuries: 12 – Mark Williams
Highest break: 146 – John Higgins
140+ Breaks: 6
Most Centuries by one player in a match: 4 – John Higgins, Mark Williams, Judd Trump, Barry Hawkins
Longest Frame: 56 minutes 6 seconds – Barry Hawkins vs Stuart Carrington
Deciding frames: 3 – Jamie Jones 10-9 Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump 10-9 Chris Wakelin, John Higgins 13-12 Judd Trump
Crucible Debutants: 4 – Liam Highfield, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Chris Wakelin, Lyu Haotian