The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

Snooker – Malta Cup

Malta Independent Friday, 27 January 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

MARK WILLIAMS (Wales)

World ranking: 9

Last five seasons: 2-1-2-1-1

Date of birth: 21-03-75

Lives: Cardiff

Turned professional: 1992

Ranking tournament victories: 15 - Regal Welsh 1996, 1999; Grand Prix 1996, 2000; British

Open 1997; Irish Open 1998; Thailand Masters 1999, 2000, 2002; UK Championship 1999,

2002; Embassy World Championship 2000, 2003; China Open 2002; LG Cup 2003

Last season’s prize money: £278,950

Career prize money (up to start of 2005/06 season): £3,454, 680

Highest tournament break: 147 – Embassy World Championship 2005

After a terrible start to the 2004/05 season, Mark Williams’ place among the elite top 16 was, unthinkably, under threat.

“I hope my form improves, if not I’ll see you at Pontin’s next season!” joked the laid-back Welshman after a 5-1 defeat to Neil Robertson at the Malta Cup which left him with just one win in the first five ranking events of the campaign.

His form did improve. He reached the semi-finals of the Failte Ireland Irish Masters, losing to Ronnie O’Sullivan, and the quarter-finals of the China Open where he was beaten by Alan McManus.

His upturn in fortunes gave him some confidence heading to the Embassy World Championship, though he could not have anticipated such a spectacular start to the tournament. He rounded off his 10-1 first round hammering of Robert Milkins with a 147 – the first maximum of his career and the sixth in Crucible history.

“I can’t believe how calm I was in there,” said the two-times world champion, who picked up a massive £161,000 bonus for the break. “On the black I just thought ‘don’t miss it!’

“I’ve made hundreds of maximums in practice but I’ve never really been close to one in a match. It’s the biggest pay cheque you can get apart from winning the world title. Mind you, my fiancee will spend most of it!”

However, Williams’ dreams of reaching a fourth Sheffield final were ended in his next match as he went down 13-12 to Ian McCulloch. He did go on to reach the final of the betfred.com Premier League where he lost to Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Williams became the first left-hander to win the world title in 2000 when he came from 13-7 down to beat Matthew Stevens 18-16 in the final. He took his second Crucible crown in 2003 when he edged out Ken Doherty in another thriller by the same scoreline.

That completed an incredible hat-trick of snooker’s biggest titles as earlier that season he had won the UK Championship and the Masters.

Other career highlights include a 10-9 defeat of Hendry in an amazing 1998 Masters final, winning the deciding frame on a re-spotted black. His last major title came at the 2003 LG Cup.

Williams was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in June 2004. “It is a tremendous honour for me, for Wales and for the game of snooker,” he said.

He was a promising amateur boxer in his youth and now counts middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe among his famous friends. Williams’ other hobbies include playing golf and five-aside football as well as driving exotic sports cars. Fiancée Joanne gave birth to their first child, son Connor, in 2004.

KEN DOHERTY (Republic of Ireland)

World ranking: 11

Last five seasons: 7-6-5-4-7

Date of birth: 17-09-69

Lives: Ranelagh, Dublin

Turned professional: 1990

Ranking tournament victories: 5 – Regal Welsh 1993, 2001; Embassy World Championship 1997; Rothmans Grand Prix 2000; Thailand Masters 2001

Last season’s prize money: £65,100

Career prize money (up to start of 2005/06 season): £2,960,460

Highest tournament break: 145 – Daily Record Players Championship 2004

Ken Doherty made a poor start to the 2004/05 season, winning just one match in the first three ranking tournaments.

He improved in the New Year with a run to the quarter-finals of the Welsh Open, where he lost to Stephen Hendry. He went one better in Beijing in March in the China Open when he beat Quinten Hann, Stephen Lee and Paul Hunter to reach the semi-finals before losing to local hero Ding Junhui.

Doherty started the Embassy World Championship in impressive fashion with a 10-5 defeat of Barry Pinches. He trailed 5-2 early on before winning eight consecutive frames with what he described as his best snooker for two years.

But could not make any further progress through the event as he went down 13-11 to Alan McManus after leading 10-8. “It’s been a stop-start season for me and I haven’t lived up to my expectations,” said the Dubliner.

It was in 1997 that Doherty assured himself of a place in snooker’s history book by ending Hendry’s five-year unbeaten run at the Crucible with an 18-12 victory in the final. He became the first player from the Republic of Ireland to win the world title, and the first person to have taken the world professional and amateur titles (he captured the latter in 1989).

More than 250,000 fans lined the streets of Dublin to give him a hero’s welcome when he brought the trophy home, and Doherty was named Ireland’s Sports Personality of the Year.

He was back in the final at Sheffield the following year, but went down 18-12 to John Higgins.

His third Sheffield final came in 2003 after a series of spectacular Crucible comebacks. He beat Shaun Murphy 10-9, Graeme Dott 13-12 and Higgins 13-8 then came from 15-9 down to beat Hunter 17-16.

In the final, he battled from 10-2 down to 11-11 against Mark Williams but fell just short of the glittering prize as the Welshman triumphed 18-16. “I’ve had some great matches and those will always be etched on my memory. I dreamed of winning it but it wasn’t to be,” said Doherty.

He has won four other ranking titles, including the Thailand Masters and Regal Welsh back-to-back in 1991.

Doherty is a huge Manchester United fan and enjoyed one of his proudest moments when he paraded the world trophy around Old Trafford in front of 55,000 fans. He also enjoys visiting art galleries and watching opera and is married to Sarah, an Australian psychiatrist.

STEPHEN LEE (England)

World ranking: 10

Last five seasons: 9-5-7-8-5

Lives: Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Date of birth: 12-10-74

Turned professional: 1992

Ranking tournament victories: 3 – Grand Prix 1998; LG Cup 2001; Regal Scottish 2002

Last season’s prize money: £67,100

Career prize money (up to start of 2005/06 season): £1,407, 730

Highest tournament break: 144 – Thailand Masters 2002

Stephen Lee made it to the quarter-finals of just two major tournaments during the 2004/05 campaign and slipped one place in the world rankings to No 10.

Perhaps the highlight of his season was a dramatic 9-8 defeat of Peter Ebdon at the Travis

Perkins UK Championship. Ebdon looked set to clear up in the deciding frame but went in-off potting the final blue and gifted victory to his opponent.

Lee was denied a semi-final by Stephen Maguire, the eventual champion progressing 9-4.

The Wiltshire’s player’s next appearance in the last eight of a ranking tournament came at the Failte Ireland Irish Masters when he went down 6-4 to Mark Williams.

At the Embassy World Championship, Lee again faced Ebdon in the last 16. He built a handy 8-3 lead before Ebdon launched one of his trademark comebacks to win 13-9.

“I blew a big lead and it’s my own fault,” said Lee. “Peter is a very tough player to beat and once he went through the gears I was gone. But for losing from 8-3 up I need hanging.”

Considered by many experts to have the smoothest cue action in snooker, Lee enjoyed his best season in 2001/02, gathering more ranking points than any other player.

He won the inaugural LG Cup at the Guild Hall in Preston in October 2001, knocking out the likes of John Higgins and Stephen Hendry on his way to the final then beating Peter Ebdon 9-4.

In April 2002, he added the Regal Scottish title at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. Lee looked set for a semi-final exit when he trailed Nigel Bond 5-1, but hit back to win 6-5 then scored a comprehensive 9-2 victory over surprise finalist David Gray.

Lee’s first ranking event success came in 1998 when he beat Fu 9-2 in the final of the Grand Prix. Other highlights of his career include winning the Millennium Cup in Hong Kong in 1999 – beating Hendry 6-1 in the semis and O’Sullivan 7-2 in the final – and helping England to their first Nations Cup victory in 2000 when they beat Wales 6-4.

Lee is the proud father of twin boys Ronnie and Alfie. He enjoys tinkering with sports cars and looking after his family’s collection of parrots.

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