Phil Haigh ✍️
Mark Williams is expecting a serious battle with ‘great player’ Yan Bingtao in the World Snooker Championship quarter-finals, believing he and Zhao Xintong are leading a Chinese takeover of the top 32 which he initially predicted over a decade ago.
Williams has been superb in Sheffield so far this tournament, comfortably seeing off Michael White and Jackson Page to make the last eight.
Yan has been no slouch either, playing brilliantly to beat Chris Wakelin and then defending champion Mark Selby to make the quarters for the first time.
Still only 22, Yan has been on Williams’ radar for years already, with the Welshman beating the Tiger in the final of the 2017 Northern Ireland Open. The deciding frame defeat for Yan meaning he narrowly missed out on being the youngest ranking event winner ever.
The three-time world champion felt that Ding Junhui’s initial success in 2005 would quickly usher in a huge amount of Chinese players to the top of snooker, and while that hasn’t quite happened yet, he feels that Yan and Zhao’s big wins on tour will make it happen.
‘He’s really good,’ Williams said of Yan. ‘I think I only stopped him by the odd frame to be the youngest ranking tournament winner ever, he’s a great player.
‘So is Xintong, there’s a bunch of Chinese players coming through now.
‘I know I’ve said it maybe 10-15 years ago that we could have half the top 32 as Chinese player soon, 10 years on we haven’t got it, but they’re coming through in massive numbers now and they’re all brilliant. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.’
Former Masters champion Yan, current UK champ Zhao and European Masters winner Fan Zhengyi all practice at Victoria’s Academy in Sheffield, which Williams credits for a lot of their success.
‘The practice facilities they’ve got must help them,’ he said. ‘Victoria’s got eight or nine Star tables, They’re all brilliant players and all practicing with each other for six, seven, eight hours a day.
‘If you can’t improve playing up there with Yan and Xintong, playing against them and eight or nine others, well, you’re bound to improve.
‘There’s more younger ones coming over and they’re all going to be improving. There’s loads on tour now and they’re all excellent players.
‘Years ago when they used to come in as wildcards, they were pretty much warm-up matches for the top boys out there, but now, anyone could lose to any one of them.’
Williams and Yan get their quarter-final underway at 10am on Tuesday 26 April at the Crucible.
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