Snooker: Higgins gets run for his money

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The Independent Online
MARK WILLIAMS is nothing if not an ebullient character. "You know why I want to win the world championship," he boomed out during a press conference, "because Ian Doyle said he'll kiss my arse if I do." People are paying penance in church in the hope photographers are absent.

As he said it, the expectation was he would be getting a caning from the defending champion John Higgins, rather than a kiss on the cheeks from his manager, but, after the first session of their Embassy World Championship semi-final yesterday, Williams was leading 5-3.

The bookmakers were quoting odds of 11-2 about the 24-year-old Welshman winning his first world title, but Williams' form this season suggested the match was going to be tight.

He is ranked third in the provisional rankings for next year and a measure of his achievements is that his taking of the Irish and Welsh Opens and the Thailand Masters makes him only the fourth player in history after Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Higgins to win three ranking events in a season.

The man from Cwm has been talking a promising game too, saying he could not be in a better frame of mind. "I feel good, very good," he said before meeting Higgins. "I can't wait to get at him."

A feature of Higgins' matches at the Crucible has been the rocket-charged start. Crush your opponent early and pieces are too spread to be re-assembled and, so far, the cleaners have had to tidy the mess of Gerard Greene (7- 1), Mark King (8-0) and Stephen Lee (8-0) after the first sessions.

You can imagine the foreboding, then, when Williams knocked up a 49 only to sit in his chair as Higgins compiled a 72 to take the first frame.

However, Williams responded by taking the next 64-53 and then added breaks of 104, 101, 66 and 92 to earn his advantage to take into today. Higgins had only one show of defiance, a 126 in the sixth frame. So far the 1998 champion has been able to coast in the second and third sessions; today will be different.

This is Williams' third appearance at the Crucible and he announced his arrival in 1997 by beating Terry Griffiths 10-9 on the last black before losing to Hendry. Last year he reached the semi-finals only to lose 17- 13 to Ken Doherty. But whereas last year he was hoping to win, this time he expects to.

Yesterday his mind appeared to be wholly on the job. The first day was his and he now needs 12 frames to reach his first world final.

EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield): Semi-finals: M Williams (Wal) leads J Higgins (Sco) 5-3. Resumes today.