Mark Williams, so weary and unhappy after the first day of the Embassy World Championship final he feared his chance had gone, staged one of the great comebacks last night to become the first Welsh champion since Terry Griffiths in 1979.
At one point he trailed Matthew Stevens 13-7 but when despair and fatigue appeared to be dragging him to a successive defeat at the ultimate hurdle he shook off both to collect 11 out of the next 14 frames. His 18-16 win was the closest since Stephen Hendry defeated Jimmy White in the deciding frame six years ago.
The comeback possibly eclipsed Hendry's in 1992 as his 10 frames in a row from 14-8 was against a White who could barely pot a ball by the conclusion. Last night Williams prevailed despite playing a Matthew Stevens who was close to the top of his game. The 22-year-old made five centuries in the final alone and still ended up losing.
"This means everything," Williams, who wins £240,000, said. "It's what I have been trying to do since I was a little kid. To be world No 1 and world champion is something you dream about. At one stage it looked as though Matthew would run away with it but I hung in there."
Until nerves took a grip on both potting arms the standard of the snooker was almost impossibly high. One mistake and the opponent would charge in with yet another heavy score. The winner was, to paraphrase a former president of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, first among equals.
Williams began the day anxious to emerge from a bout of weariness that had struck him on the first day of the final. He complained of "feeling drained" by his previous labours and warned he would have no chance if the weariness took permanent residence.
Spin back 12 months and the words would have been similar because the 17 days in the Crucible had fatigued him so seriously he crumbled to Hendry on the last day last year. World finalists can run out of power and on Monday night Williams looked in need of a recharge.
When a player is feeling tired the inclination is to go for shots in a rush to get frames over quickly and Stevens had built his lead by tempting Williams with risky pots and clearing up when the damage had been done. The score after the first day had been 10-6 but in tactical terms it was a rout.
The key to Williams' victory lay in yesterday's afternoon session and his refusal to follow what had gone before. Stevens won three of the first four frames but then was rooted to his chair as his opponent won four in succession.
Long-term friends, both players grinned as they shook hands at the end of the session, but it was Williams whose smile was wider and he also inflicted the first wound of the evening. Stevens made a 33 but tripped with a blue into the centre pocket and his opponent took the frame with a 77 break.
That made it five frames in a row and Stevens urgently required something to halt the flow away from him. He found it with a calmly collated 67. Many of the pots had to be manufactured, a time when nerves ought to come into play, but he took his chance like he was on the practice table.
Not that Williams was looking nervy and he pulled the arrears back to one with breaks of 36 and 39. With the mid-session break beckoning he grabbed the grabbed the chance to draw level with a 67.
The match see-sawed from one side of the arena to the other. Stevens scored his fifth century of the match to keep his nose ahead; Williams took the next two to lead for the first time since 4-3; Stevens took a nervy 32nd frame to level the match. Which way it would go was anyone's guess but Williams took the 33rd frame with a break of 56 and crossed the finishing line with visits worth 27 and 32.
"Everything was looking good at 13-7," Stevens said, "but credit to Mark, he played brilliantly."
EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield): Final:
M Williams (Wal) bt M Stevens (Wal) 18-16. Frame scores (Stevens first): 62-50, 84-28, 33-56, 103(103 break)-23, 18-65, 61-76, 0-123(123), 75-35, 64-24, 84-37, 59-21, 117(111)-0, 114(114)-7, 6-79, 73-22, 0-68, 133(108 break)-0, 66-48, 0-106(106), 55-54, 0-81, 34-79, 46-71, 37-79, 33-77, 67-0, 6-75, 0-74, 120 (120 break)-16, 13-61, 66-70, 60-29, 8-76, 21-73.