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Mark Williams relishing crowning glory

Title defence: Williams
returns to the Crucible
as champion after his
victory last year (below)

MARK WILLIAMS is so excited about the prospect of being introduced as the reigning world champion on Saturday, he’s barely considering the prospect of how he might get on in his first-round match.

Williams gave the world championship one of its great stories last year, when he beat John Higgins in a titanic final to win at the Crucible for the first time in a generation, 12 months after his wife Joanne talked him out of retiring.

Now the Welshman is returning to Sheffield in the pursuit of a fourth world crown. But he insists it is all about the occasion this weekend.

‘My kids are coming up with me and I’m going to be introduced as the reigning world champion, it’s just going to be a brilliant occasion for me,’ Williams said. ‘That’s the moment I am looking forward to the most. Obviously I want to win the game, and if I went there and lost you’ll be gutted, but the occasion is going to be so good, that the victory or the loss is the last thing on my mind. This may never happen again. Let’s make the most of it.’

Williams made back-page headlines last May, and not just for his brilliance on the table. He infamously came good on a promise early in the tournament that he would turn up to his victorious press conference naked (pictured below) if he went all the way.

Indeed, he only wore a towel on the insistence of World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn. In many ways, the high jinks have continued for Williams all season long. Nobody has ever toasted Crucible glory quite like him.

The 44-year-old insists, however, that he does not regret anything about his wild celebrations.

‘I’ve had a brilliant time, I’ve loved every minute,’ Williams said. ‘My season has suffered from me enjoying it.

‘I knew it was going to suffer and I’m not bothered one bit.

‘This season was just a free season in a way. I wouldn’t change it for the world.’

On his prospects of success at the annual 17-day marathon, Williams added: ‘I’m feeling good, I’m practising again. I haven’t really got any expectations this time, I suppose, I’ll just have to see how I go.

‘I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and do my best.’

■ 18 —Years that span Williams’ three world title wins at the Crucible, where he triumphed in 2000, 2003 and 2018

■ 16 — Players came through qualifying for today’s draw, including James Cahill, 23, the first ever amateur to make it to the Crucible

■ 22/1 — Odds you can get on Mark Williams successfully defending his Crucible title — Ronnie O’Sullivan is 9/4 favourite