Mark Williams shook off the challenge of David Gilbert – and the attentions of a persistent wasp – to win his Masters first-round match 6-2 at Alexandra Palace.
The world No 7 began in ominous fashion, hitting back-to-back century breaks to start the match and adding a further run of 95 to lead 4-0 at the interval. Gilbert, handed a wild-card place after the suspension of Yan Bingtao, rallied on the resumption by winning the next two frames in succession.
Gilbert looked on course to cut the gap to 4-3 but missed a couple of golden chances in the next, allowing Williams to reassert control at 5-2. Again Gilbert rallied, taking a 63-point lead in the next frame with Williams chipping away at the deficit before the insect interloper sparked havoc.
The referee, Marcel Eckardt, briefly suspended the frame as both he and a flailing Williams tried in vain to remove it from the playing arena. The wasp briefly landed on a camera operator before flying back into the rafters, and Williams regrouped to clear the table, winning the frame after Gilbert had missed the yellow.
“I thought it was gonna sting my nuts at one stage!” joked Williams afterwards. It’s not the first time the so-called ‘Ally Pally Wasp’ has caused disruption – the insects made an appearance at December’s world darts championships, while snooker referee Ben Williams was stung by a wasp at the 2020 Masters.
Williams’ victory sets up a quarter-final with his fellow former champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan. “There’ll be two and a half thousand people here, about three of them wanting me to win!” the Welshman added. “But I’m playing well, and I’m not a pushover for anyone. It’s unbelievable how I’m still at the top of the game, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
In the afternoon match, Barry Hawkins whitewashed Mark Allen 6-0 to continue the former winner’s miserable recent run in the event.
Allen has not won a Masters match since lifting the title in 2018 and managed a high break of just 45 against fellow left-hander Hawkins, runner-up to Neil Robertson 12 months ago, who will face either Judd Trump or Ryan Day in the quarter-finals.
Hawkins, the world No 13, recovered from a 55-0 deficit in the opening frame to win it on the colours, with breaks of 76 and 114 then extending his advantage. Allen edged ahead in a scrappy fourth frame only to overcut the brown, Hawkins clearing up to lead 4-0 at the mid-session interval.
Allen recovered from 6-1 down to beat Ding Junhui 10-7 in November’s UK Championship final in November, but there was no way back for “The Pistol” here. Hawkins resumed with breaks of 45 and 41 to lead 5-0 before quickly wrapping up victory and telling the BBC: “The result flattered me a little bit.”
“I kept Mark under pressure and I didn’t do that much wrong – very few easy unforced errors – and I think that’s made the difference in the end,” Hawkins added, putting his strong display down to plenty of practice over Christmas. “I knew this tournament was coming up, and this is not a place you want to be underprepared.”
Allen was quick to give credit to Hawkins, telling Eurosport: “I probably should have won the first frame and had a couple of chances in frame four, other than that, I thought he was phenomenal.
“I said to him at the end, it’s probably one of the best safety performances I’ve ever played against as a pro. Granted I missed a few balls as well, but you just have to credit Barry, he just froze me out. It was a phenomenal performance.”