Mark Williams is improving with age and is playing freely enough to challenge for a fourth world title, according to Ronnie O'Sullivan.
In an exclusive interview with Eurosport discussing the sport's famous Class of '92 that saw celebrated multiple world champions O'Sullivan, Williams and John Higgins turn professional 29 years ago, the six-times winner has praised his old rival's formidable all-round game.
At the age of 46, Williams is bidding to become the oldest Crucible king of all time ahead of fellow Welshman Ray Reardon – who was 45 in 1978, the event's second year in Sheffield – after reaching the quarter-finals with an outstanding 13-7 win over Higgins in the last 16 that saw him hit three centuries and seven breaks over 60.
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“It was like being in the ring with Floyd Mayweather – I got my head jabbed near clean off. Mark is just such a clever player," said Higgins in analysing Williams' level of play. "He was in the middle of the ring, and I never got a look-in. But that’s what he does, and what he has been doing for so long. He was superb tonight."
Williams has played down his prospects of adding to his victories in 2000, 2003 and 2018 ahead of a quarter-final meeting with Mark Selby or Mark Allen on Tuesday and Wednesday.
But O'Sullivan – who lost 13-12 in an epic to Anthony McGill in the last 16 – feels he has nothing to fear if he can find the form that saw him lift the inaugural WST Pro Series event and reach the Championship League final in recent weeks.
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“Williams has been fantastic to watch in the past few tournaments," said O'Sullivan. "I thought: ‘you are dusting these young guys up’.
"You are trashing them. The way Williams is playing at the moment, he’s a match for anyone because he’s enjoying it and a snooker player enjoying his snooker is a dangerous opponent.
He’s got great temperament, his potting ability is amazing and his break-building has improved a lot over the past two or three years. I’d say he is a much better all-round player than when he first came on the scene.
“We all develop as pros. You start a bit rough round the edges and you develop. Your style improves because you have to adapt and reinvent yourself.
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“That is what Mark has done. He can play any game. If you want to play safe: 'yeah, if you want to score points, yeah, I’m cool with it..'
“You know when to pick and choose your battles and just play in a philosophical way. I’m not sure John Higgins could do what Mark is doing because they are different styles of players.
“Mark is playing with a tremendous amount of freedom."
O'Sullivan also feels the level of talent and commitment to their vocation employed by figures such as Higgins and Williams over the past three decades makes them the last of a dying breed on the green baize.
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"You might see a good crop of players, and in-depth they’re quite good today, but I doubt you will see a John Higgins or Mark Williams type of player again," said the record 37-times ranking event winner.
“Alright, we’ve got Judd Trump, but he’s the only one, but other than that you look down and there is nobody showing that type of snooker ability or snooker brain.
“There’s just no one. Yeah, there are good players, but if Higgins or Williams play 80 percent of their game, there is still only Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and possibly Mark Selby who can beat them."
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