Mark Williams insists he has no regrets after enjoying a jet-set 12 months celebrating his Betfred World Championship triumph.
The 43-year-old stunned the sporting world last May when he beat John Higgins 18-16 in the final – 15 years after his previous Crucible title.
It was a feat few predicted – not even Williams himself – but the Welshman has certainly celebrated his year at the top, jetting off on several family holidays, from Dubai to New York City.
It means he opens up his defence of the world title in Sheffield this morning, against Martin Gould, admitting his snooker has suffered over the last year.
“There have been so many special moments I have just enjoyed myself so much,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “I can’t believe 12 months have passed so quick. It’s frightening.
“I have done everything bar snooker. I have taken time off, been to Spain a couple of times, Dubai, which was probably the best place I have ever been. New York, everywhere, it’s just been the best times of my life.
No, I have no regrets – none at all. If somehow I won the World Championship again I don’t even think I would play next season, I would take the season off.Mark Williams
“I said I was going to enjoy it and I did. My form has suffered for the season and I don’t mind that, I would do it all again if I could,” said Williams, who won his first world title 19 years ago, and had come close to quitting snooker in recent times.
“I have spent most of the time with my family, a few holidays. I normally go away in the caravan most of the time, but we have hardly used the caravan.
“We have been going away and enjoying some family time which I haven’t really done much at all of the last few years. I have made up for it this year.
“I never celebrated any of my victories before, obviously I never had kids either. It’s the first time they have seen me win and I just wanted to enjoy it with them.
“I am playing golf with the middle one nearly every day at the minute. He comes home from school and just wants to play golf. You don’t have to ask me twice for a game of golf.
“No, I have no regrets – none at all. If somehow I won the World Championship again I don’t even think I would play next season, I would take the season off.”
Despite his off-the-table distractions, Williams won this season’s World Open, and believes his form has improved over the last month.
“My form has suffered, I know that I’m not stupid,” he said. “I have been playing a lot the last month and my form has been picking up. Even though I lost to (Judd) Trump (in the Tour Championship) and Ken Doherty (China Open) my form has picked up nicely. If I can get past the first round then it could start picking up.”
At this stage last year, Williams saw off Jimmy Robertson at the first hurdle, 10-5, before beating Robert Milkins 13-7. He then beat Ali Carter 13-8 in the quarter-finals, before a late-night finish saw him edge out Barry Hawkins 17-15 to set-up a final showdown against Higgins.
“I didn’t really have any close matches until the semi-final,” he recalled. “In the semi-final I was so nervous towards the end, it was just a horrible feeling. I hated every minute of it. I just scraped over the line. I remember 3am in a kebab shop (after beating Hawkins) thinking I am absolutely knackered and I said ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if I turned up tomorrow and could be 7-1 8-0 down’.
“I don’t think I went to bed until about 4 or 5am. I came out and within about an hour I was 4-0 up. I couldn’t believe it.
“I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was nicking sweets off everyone. It was unbelievable, it turned out to be one of the best games I have ever played in.
“Winning the World Championship last year made my career. It was massive for me, whether or not I win another tournament or don’t, it’s made my career. I would like to win another one, but there is just no pressure on me anymore. I have done something that no one thought I could do again, even myself, so I am just going to enjoy it. I always enjoy it, but I am going to enjoy it even more.”
Last night, Williams spent time on the practice table, before a family meal out in Sheffield, and a flutter at the casino. And he will be a proud man when MC Rob Walker welcomes him through the Crucible curtains this morning as ‘the defending world champion…’
“I have been looking forward to Saturday morning for five or six months now,” said Williams. “To have my family at the side being introduced as the defending champion. I can’t believe it. I would never have thought it would happen again. It will be brilliant, I am sure they will enjoy it and I have a new walk on song planned. You will have to wait and see what it is.”
After 12 months of celebrations, started by turning up naked for his post-match press conference last year, we have come to expect the unexpected from Mr Williams.