John Higgins and Mark Williams set for World Championship quarter-finals

Snooker
John Higgins celebrates after beating Jack Lisowski
John Higgins celebrates after beating Jack Lisowski

As they prepare for their quarter-final matches in the World Snooker Championship, Richard Mann pays tribute to John Higgins and Mark Williams.

‘Snooker is a young man’s game.’

Try telling that to John Higgins and Mark Williams.

The champion pair, winners of six world titles between them, line up in the last eight of snooker's blue riband on Tuesday, still part of game's elite and harbouring very realistic hopes of going all the way in Sheffield once again.

Since Barry Hearn took charge of snooker, the sport has developed immeasurably, reaching out to a huge audience in the Far East and with it, attracting a new generation of young players who have seemingly helped take the standard of play to a level not seen before.

But here we are, 42-year-old Higgins the winner of three major titles this season and currently second favourite with Sky Bet to become world champion for a fifth time.

They said the days of multiple winners of the Crucible crown were long gone, that the young talent coming through was too vast and too strong to allow dimming lights to keep on shining.

However, Higgins has enjoyed one of the better campaigns of his career and landed a record fifth Welsh Open only a few months ago.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, recently departed from Sheffield but a five-time ranking winner this term, is another 42-year-old who remains one step ahead of the young guns not so much snapping at his heels, but watching on in awe.

So, as Higgins prepares for a quarter-final clash with Judd Trump, the apparent heir to O’Sullivan’s throne for a good few years now but still without a world title on his CV, how is it that the golden generation are able to defy Father Time and still dominate the sport?

Higgins told sportinglife.com: "We’re just good players, I think.

"I know there is great talent there, you’ve got the Selbys and the Dings and you can keep naming names as they’re all fantastic players.

"But below that, I don’t think the players can knock us older players out right now while we’re still hungry and enjoying it."

Higgins certainly looks to have been enjoying his snooker so far here, coming through a tricky opening match against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh before hammering Jack Lisowski in a brilliant display that included a total clearance of 146.

A clash against Trump now awaits, whom he beat in a memorable final here back in 2011, and Higgins, now firmly established one of the greatest players in the history of the game, will be banking on all of his previous experience to get him through what should be a stern examination against the supremely gifted left-hander.

Trump struggled through his opening match against Chris Wakelin but made four centuries in his win over Ricky Walden and held his nerve really well when trailing 8-9, taking the last five frames with an assured display.

For Williams, 43, this season has seen something of a renaissance with three major titles getting him back into the top eight of the rankings and justifying his decision to play on this year having seriously considered retirement following a barren run.

The Northern Ireland Open winner has continued his stellar form in Sheffield, brushing aside Jimmy Robertson and the dangerous Rob Milkins, and he remains happy with his form.

"Ive been really consistent all season," Williams told worldsnooker.com. "I’ve been keeping this run going for this last eight or nine months.

"It’s been unbelievable, really."

The Welshman will play another of the game’s elder statesmen in Ali Carter next, the latter coming into this match on the back of a dramatic victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan on Saturday.

Williams, like Higgins, is favourite to make it to the last four, keeping alive the possibility of the pair meeting in the final on Sunday.

Just like old times, eh? Maybe life does begin at 40 after all.

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