Masters 2022: Mark Williams and Neil Robertson to meet in semi-final

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Mark Williams
Mark Williams has not won the Masters since 2003
Venue: Alexandra Palace, London Dates: 9-16 January
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app

Mark Williams beat John Higgins in a final-frame decider to set up a Masters semi-final with Neil Robertson.

Higgins opened with a break of 126 and led 2-0 before Williams made 116 and reeled off three consecutive frames.

The duo, with 16 Triple Crown titles between them and two Masters crowns each, traded frames before Williams sealed his 6-5 win with a break of 91.

Earlier on Thursday, Robertson advanced with a 6-4 win over seven-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.

The Australian impressed throughout and made breaks of 119 and 130, plus three half-centuries, against the Englishman.

“I am really happy with getting through,” Robertson told BBC Sport. “My pot success was at 96%, so that tells you I was potting a lot of balls and not making too many mistakes.

“It was back and forth a little bit. My positional play could have been a little bit better but I pulled off some brilliant pressure shots, especially bridging from the cushion.

“It was following a little bit of a pattern there [with O’Sullivan fighting back] – when he gets the crowd behind him and you get 2,000 people absolutely screaming.

“My debut was against Jimmy White at the Masters and I know how much a crowd can carry a player, so it was important I responded well and I did that.”

The crackling atmosphere inside the auditorium for this year’s tournament has already been referenced by Higgins, Robertson and Williams.

And when O’Sullivan is in town, that ratchets up even further, with ‘the Rocket’ receiving almost the full weight of support from the London crowd on his own patch.

Yet there was little for them to cheer early on as world number four Robertson took control against the player who beat him in the final of the World Grand Prix in December and sits directly above him in the world rankings.

The 39-year-old capitalised on some loose potting from O’Sullivan to lay an immediate marker with a run of 119 and went on to score 202 unanswered points as he established a 2-0 lead.

Six-time world champion O’Sullivan recovered by taking the third frame and punished a missed red to the middle to draw level at the mid-session interval with a break of 66.

Robertson added another half century and 130 as the players traded frames, with O’Sullivan’s response, an 80th century at the Masters, and a 68, just as impressive.

However, Robertson had the final say, sealing his victory with a break of 54 as he won consecutive frames to set up another mouth-watering encounter against another of the ‘class of 92’ next.

Higgins and Williams renew old rivalry

This was the 64th instalment of Higgins versus Williams – who both turned professional in 1992 – and it was as predictably hard-fought as their 2018 World Championship final.

The last of Williams’ ranking titles came at the British Open in August, while Higgins has reached the final of four tournaments already this season.

And after a rousing reception, lasting almost a minute, in recognition of their enduring class, the Scot set the tone for another fantastic occasion with an immaculate break of 126 from Williams’ opening safety shot.

“I have never experienced anything like that. The crowd was unbelievable,” Williams told BBC Sport.

“I could not feel my legs in my chair. Thanks to the crowd because it made the occasion even more special. If John and I keep playing like that, maybe we will be here for a good few years yet.

“My legs were shaking, my arms were shaking, I thought my heart was going to come out of my chest. I was a bundle of nerves after the fourth frame.

“I have nothing but respect for him. He is not my rival any more. He is someone I love playing and watching. I think it is 32, 33 years I have been playing him and we are still here at the quarter-finals in the Masters.”

Higgins, the beaten Masters finalist in 2021, displayed his resilience to make a composed 127 break to level at 4-4 and looked set to move 5-4 ahead.

But after knocking the black in to the right corner on 43, a red ricocheted into the right middle to leave Williams perfectly placed to win the frame with an accomplished 78.

The four-time world champion took it to a decider with a 61, but Williams held his nerve to win after a poor safety from Higgins.

Analysis

Former world champion John Parrott on BBC Two

“Neil Robertson is a tough cookie. You have to be able to stand up to it and have something about you to be able to come out into that auditorium. It is like playing an away match.

“You have to try to silence the crowd, which he did early on, but he was very strong at the finish.”

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