From an amateur boxer to a professional snooker player
Originally a promising amateur boxer, Mark got fed up with being hit and took up snooker. He first came to the attention of the snooker world at large during the 1990/91 season when he beat Dave Harold to win a £500 event. In the World Masters in 1991 he was runner-up in the junior event to John Higgins but he beat John to win the British Under-16 title. He also won the UK Under-19 but a certain Matthew Stevens pipped him for the Welsh Under-19. He joined the professional ranks for the 1992/3 season just one year after it had become open to all comers.
He did not make such a spectacular start to his professional career as fellow rookies, John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan, but he did reach the last 16 of the European Open and a few other last 64 places ranked him at 119. It was a similar story in 1993/4 with a couple of last 32 places but his overall performance in those first two seasons took him up to 58th. 1994/95 was better still with two last sixteen places and several more where he reached at least the last 64. In non ranking events he won the Benson & Hedges Championship to give him his first title as a professional but also a wild card into the Masters at Wembley where he beat Willie Thorne 5-0 to get to the second round and his biggest pay cheque to date of £11,000. He rounded off the season by taking the Open championship title at the Pontins festival and his ranking climbed to 39.
1995/95 proved to be the big breakthrough season. He reached his first ranking quarter-final in the UK championship and then, at the Regal Welsh, he beat Doherty and Ebdon, among others, to reach the final where he beat John Parrott 9-3 for his first ranking title and £36,000. He went on to the British Open quarter-finals as well and even though he still had not made it to the Crucible, he jumped into the elite top 16 at number sixteen. That victory seemed to give him supreme confidence and in only the second event of the next season, the Grand Prix, he was a winner again. He followed that with successive quarter finals in the UK and German Open and a semi-final in the Welsh before taking his third ranking title in the British Open. He was now up to fourth in the rankings and one of the favourites for every event.
Although he did not add to his ranking titles in 1997/98 he held his nerve to beat Stephen Hendry on a re-spotted black in a final frame decider to win the Benson & Hedges Masters and a cheque for £145,000. He also had his best world championship so far, reaching the semi-finals but his ranking slipped back one place. He rounded off the season by taking the Pontins professional title. In 1998/99 he certainly made up for his lack of titles in the previous season. Along with Hendry, Higgins and O'Sullivan, he was part of what was becoming known as 'The Big Four' and after a modest start in the first two events he won three of the next four, the Irish Open, Regal Welsh and Thailand Masters and went all the way to the world final in Sheffield but Hendry was not to be denied his seventh title. Mark was now up to third but more importantly he was starting the next season provisionally heading the list. He also helped Wales to lift the first Nations Cup trophy.
Could he match that terrific season? Not only did he match it he went even better in 1999/2000 with no less than six ranking finals. He lost the first of those in the season's opener, the Grand Prix having also been beaten in the final of the new Champions Cup, a non-ranking event to start the season for winners from the previous season. He won the UK title and the Thailand Masters and was runner-up in the Malta Grand Prix and Scottish Open. And so it was on to the Embassy at the Crucible where he was one of the favourites and already assured of the number one position in the rankings. He did not disappoint his fans although he had to come from behind to beat his friend Matthew Stevens in an all-Welsh final to become world champion and, incidentally, the first ever left-hander to win that crown.
As so often happens after winning the world title, he found it difficult to maintain his form in 2000/01. Although he did win the Grand Prix and reached the final of the China International and the UK where John Higgins heavily beat him. He again lost in the final of the Champions Cup and the Malta Grand Prix, both non-ranking events and, in the Embassy, he surprisingly lost in the second round. He did however hang on to the number one ranking position mainly due to his dominance the year before. His form began to pick up in 2001/02 and he won back-to-back ranking titles in China and Thailand to put him back in the running to claim the number one position again. However defeats in the last 16 in both the Scottish Open and world championship ensured that he would drop to number two.
Mark turned to Terry Griffiths for advice and it really paid dividends. Although he did not begin the 2002/03 campaign particularly well, losing his opener in the Regal Masters and only reaching the last 16 of the LG Cup. But he then followed a British Open semi final with his second UK title. He was runner-up in the Welsh open and then won the Masters for a second time. As the world championship began there were three players in with a chance of the number one slot; Mark, Hendry and O'Sullivan. With Ronnie going out in the first round, Mark's entered his quarter final clash with Hendry knowing that a win would ensure that he became only the second player ever to regain the number one position after Ray Reardon. Not only did he win that match but he won the championship as well. He had now picked up the 'big three', UK, Masters and Embassy, in the same season, a feat which had only previously been achieved by Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.
In April 2004 Williams' fiancee Jo gave birth to the couple's first child, a boy named Connor. This, and the fact that he has achieved every ambition in the game, has meant that he often loses focus in matches and, as a result, he has slipped down the rankings. After losing in the first round of the 2003 UK Championship to Fergal O'Brien, he entered a run of relatively poor form which saw him slide to 9th in the world rankings for 2005/2006, having been only the 22nd-highest points scorer in the previous season, meaning that he would need an improvement of form to simply remain in the top 16.
On March 27, 2006, Williams won his first ranking event in two and a half years, the China Open in Beijing, beating John Higgins 9-8 in a fantastic final. This helped him return to the top 8 in the world rankings after a dramatic fall in the provisional rankings which saw him facing a possible drop out of the top 32.
It was revealed during the World Snooker Championships in April 2006 that Williams had split with coach Terry Griffiths. The two remain very close friends, but Terry would no longer be coaching him.
On September 2, 2006, Williams lifted the Pot Black trophy after racking up a 119 century break in the final against John Higgins.
Mark's secret seems to be that he is able to stay so relaxed, even during major finals and nothing seems to unnerve him. He is one of the jokers around the players lounge. The use of his middle initial was originally to distinguish him from an English player called Mark Williams who was also on the circuit in the mid 1990s. On one occasion this other Mark received a winner's cheque from the WPBSA intended for his more successful namesake from Wales!