Mark Williams overcame David Gilbert in an entertaining game at The Masters to set up a quarter-final clash with Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The Welshman put on a breathtaking display, making breaks of 126, 127 and 95 as he ran a comfortable victory.
Despite it being a tournament of the underdog so far, with Mark Allen, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and John Higgins all departing in the first round, Williams was still the heavy favourite going into his match with Gilbert, who only made it into the event at short notice after taking Yan Bingtao’s spot, with the latter implicated in the ongoing match-fixing scandal in snooker.
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And Williams made a rapid start, capitalising on an error from Gilbert – who had tried a high-tariff shot with the rest – to scamper round the table and knock in a superlative break of 126.
It was an ominous start from the Welshman, but frame two began in an altogether scrappier fashion, with neither player able to make any openings stick.
That was until Williams rolled in a starter to the middle and then played a terrific positional shot on a tricky red to open up the rest of the table, allowing him to convert his visit into a frame-winning break of 127, his second century in a row.
It was vintage Williams, and at 2-0 it was looking like it was going to be a straightforward evening for the 47-year-old.
The pattern continued in the third, as Williams got in once again after Gilbert erred, and with the balls nicely set up, a hat-trick of consecutive centuries appeared on the cards.
But though a difficult red to the middle put paid to that, it was enough to take the frame and a 3-0 lead.
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Gilbert had only potted two balls as frame four got underway, with Joe Perry in the Eurosport studio likening his position to that of an extra in a film scene.
But he sunk a beautiful long red from Williams’ break-off, and when he opened up the pack from the black, a first break of any substance looked a possibility.
However, he failed to cannon successfully into the pack and had to play safe after a visit of 29, which may at least have made him feel more at ease.
He did get back to the table and had a good chance of going on from there, but he took on a courageous pink which, when it missed, handed Williams the run of the balls.
But it was Williams’ turn to falter, as he let Gilbert in. Could the Englishman cash in? The answer, regrettably for him, was no, as he missed a red and Williams cleared up to take a 4-0 lead at the break.
David Gilbert of England reacts during their first round match against Mark Williams of Wales at Alexandra Palace on January 10, 2023 in London, England.
Image credit: Getty Images
You felt Gilbert had to take the frame following the interval, and he set about doing so with a number of visits that eventually saw him score heavily enough to get himself on the board.
Suddenly after such a fluent beginning from Williams, the match was just getting a bit tight, and frame six was nip and tuck as both players had their opportunities.
And when Williams seemed to push at a red to the bottom corner – which wobbled in the jaws and stayed out – Gilbert took his chance to narrow the deficit to 4-2. Game on.
You might have thought – like his errant pot in the previous frame – that Williams would be rattled, but not a bit of it as the Welshman powered in a long red at and a series of difficult pots at the start of the next to get an early 36-point lead.
But when that fizzled out and Gilbert came to the table, the 41-year-old showed his renewed confidence to put together a similar-sized break as a crucial frame teetered one way then the other.
Then, however, Gilbert was put in a tricky situation following a smart safety from Williams and although he escaped well, he left a yellow on, which his opponent duly potted and would see out the frame to move closer to victory.
For all the world, it looked like Gilbert was going to extend the match when he built a 62-point lead, but drama and comedy – in equal measure – was to follow. After missing a fine cut to the middle pocket, he left Williams with plenty on. But out of nowhere, Williams’ attention was diverted elsewhere as he had to avoid a menacing wasp!
But he was straight back to business only to miss the yellow. Gilbert couldn’t take advantage, however, and after a safety exchange, Williams came out on top with a spectacular clearance.
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