By Will Jennings
Evergreen Mark Williams’ days dining at the top table of world snooker are not over yet, reckons six-time Crucible king Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Three-time world champion Williams turns 46 in March and last tasted major glory when he rolled back the years to win the 2018 World Championship.
He’s endured a barren couple of years on the circuit since as world No.1 Judd Trump, No.2 Neil Robertson and three-time world champion Mark Selby have dominated.
O’Sullivan admits it won’t be easy for the Cwm player but reckons he, Williams and four-time world champion John Higgins – all 45 – still have what it takes to hold silverware aloft once again.
Williams will take on Shaun Murphy in the first round of the Masters on Monday and the Rocket said: “Mark can [win trophies still]. He definitely can.
“I think definitely him and John Higgins can still win titles, but it is going to be really hard.
“The top three are there and are probably going to win 60 or 70 per cent of the tournaments they play in, that we all play in, so it only leaves those other opportunities. And you’ve got Mark Allen, Ding Junhui, Barry Hawkins, Stuart Bingham, a lot of players, and they’re going to win tournaments as well.
“If you’re an exceptional player you can probably do what [John] Higgins and [Mark] Williams have done, which is compete, but it’s still downhill for them.
“They’re still not the players that they were, yet they were so good that even their B or C game is allowing them to compete and allowing them to have the odd good tournament.
“But to do it week in, week out, they just don’t have the physical powers of recovery – and myself included – to be able to be able to do it week in, week out and mentally be strong enough to hold it together match after match.”
Williams, a 22-time ranking event winner to O’Sullivan’s 37, kicks off his pursuit of a third Masters title next week as he faces world No.7 Murphy in the first round.
The Welshman has been chasing a hat-trick of victories in the Triple Crown event for the last 18 years after reigning supreme on the Wembley baize in 1998 and 2003.
This year’s event was due to be held in front of fans at Alexandra Palace but a surge in coronavirus cases means the tournament will now be held behind closed doors in Milton Keynes.
The Covid-secure Marshall Arena has been the venue for all of this season’s tournaments and Williams, also a two-time UK champion, has only progressed past the third round on a single occasion.
He reached the last 16 of December’s Scottish Open but slumped to premature second round defeats in the European Masters and Northern Ireland Open.
Despite soaring to Crucible glory last summer, O’Sullivan is also yet to claim silverware this season as Trump, Robertson and Selby have scooped a total of six ranking event titles between them.
The Rocket reckons Williams’ powers of recovery aren’t what they used to be and admits once a player hits their mid-40s, they enter terminal decline.
O’Sullivan, who will face three-time UK champion Ding Junhui at the Masters on Wednesday, added: “At 37, I felt as good as I’d ever done and at 38, even at 40, I felt great. [Also at] 41 or 42, but I’ve got to be honest, the last 18 months I just can’t recover physically from one tournament to the next.
“I just don’t and I just get mentally tired – and I’m quite strong mentally. You can say you can still do it, but the body doesn’t allow you to.
“It used to be 33 or 34 for a snooker player but I think now it’s maybe early 40s [the end of your peak].
“After that, you’re definitely on a decline. I don’t care who you are, once you hit 42 or 43 there’s only one way for you, and that’s down.”
Watch the London Masters live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from Jan 10