Mark Williams on finally enjoying his snooker in the twilight of his incredible career
- The Welsh Wonder secured his third world championship title earlier this year
- At 43, he is enjoying a late renaissance in his career
World number two Mark Williams stunned snooker, and himself, last May when he landed his third world championship at the ripe old age of 43, becoming the oldest player since Ray Reardon in 1978 to claim the title of world’s best.
So unexpected was his win that after a victory in an earlier round, the Welshman promised reporters he would conduct his post-final media conference naked should he defy the odds and go all the way at The Crucible in Sheffield.
A few days later, true to his word, the Welsh Wonder was back in that same conference room wearing only a towel, and expressing his astonishment that he had pulled off a world championship triumph 15 years on from his last.
Watch: 17 Questions with Mark Williams
“I didn’t think I’d ever win it again if I’m totally honest with you,” said Williams, who is competing this week at the Macau Masters invitational tournament. “I mean, how many people can win the world championship in any sport, and then 15 years later win it again? It doesn’t make sense.
“My time, really, should have past and I should be retired now, but for some reason I’ve got a new lease of life and I’m playing well again.”
He is certainly enjoying life again. He talked in recent months about how close he came to calling time on his illustrious playing career after a barren few years on the tour – he won just one tournament between February 2011 and November 2017 and says he was at his lowest point before that win. But his surprise success during the 2017-18 season, which culminated in the Crucible win, has given him a new lease of life, and provided a boost to his game.
“I’ve enjoyed the last six months more than I’ve done in 20 years,” Williams said. “It feels like I’ve just been drinking every night somewhere, partying, going on holidays ... it’s been brilliant. When I do go into the club and think I’m going to have a few hours practise on my own, I take my cue out and within five minutes I’m like, ‘sod this’ and I’m back on the golf course and having another couple of beers.
“It has to come to an end, I know it does, but until it does, I’m just having the best time of my life.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Williams revealed how it all could have been so much different, and the Valley boy could have found himself working down the coal mines like previous generations of his family.
Williams, who was awarded an MBE in 2004 a few months after claiming his second world championship, said there wasn’t many career opportunities in the industrial village of Cwm in Ebbw Vale, and if it wasn’t for his obvious talent with a snooker cue, he too would have joined his father in the only career choice on offer in the village.
“I was brought up in a little village,” Williams said. “My father was a miner.
“I ended up picking a snooker cue up and practising, but if I didn’t make it, I would have went down the mines, there’s no question. There was nothing else to do; you either went down the mines or went into steelwork.
“I just managed to get better and better and made good of the talent that I had.”
In the twilight of his career, Williams is modest discussing his achievements, which are reported to have earned him more than £6 million (US$7.7 million, HK$60.7 million) in prize money.
A recent win in Yushan, China, at the World Open swelled that number still, but it also provided proof that Williams is enjoying an unlikely renaissance in his career as it nears its end.
But is he raging against the dying of the light?
“I do think I’m coming towards the end of my career,” Williams said, “but at the minute, there’s someone over 40 winning all the tournaments. The youngsters are just not doing it at the moment.
“So where I thought my career was ending, maybe I’ve got another four or five years left. Hopefully,” he added with a smile.
With the practise part of his game increasingly giving way to his enjoyment of the spoils at this point in his career, perhaps a fourth world title in Sheffield next May would be his greatest triumph of all.
“I’m going into tournaments not really expecting to do that good because I haven’t played,” he said, “and then I won the first tournament in China, and that was unbelievable.
“I know I’ve got to get back down to practising, otherwise you’ll never do any good, but I’m just enjoying myself and I’m actually enjoying not playing snooker.”
Friendly and down-to-earth, Williams is one of the most liked figures on the tour, and few would be upset if he claimed a fourth world title next year. However, he has already promised a second naked media conference if he wins, with the added caveat of a handstand.
Doubtless some in the media will not be relishing that prospect.