So unlikely did Mark Williams’ snooker world title win seem a year ago, that the Welshman pledged to strip off for his press conference should he triumph.
He entered the Crucible media centre on Monday night wearing only a broad smile and a towel after becoming the oldest champion since 1978.
The 43-year-old withstood a fierce John Higgins onslaught to claim a dramatic 18-16 victory and his third Sheffield success 15 years after his last.
Mark Williams strides into his post-match press conference wearing nothing but a towel
The heavily tattooed Williams had promised to do his media duties naked if he won
The Welshman removes the towel while being interviewed following his memorable win
Williams’ previous world title victories came while he was in his twenties, in 2000 and 2003
On Tuesday Williams was still enjoying his win, tweeting this image with the caption: ‘I said the sun will have to come up, still going’
And so he emerged with just the Betfred towel to spare his blushes as he explained how his incredible return to the top had sparked his bizarre promise.
Williams, whose heavily tattooed arms and back were on display for all to see, was roared into the media room and said: ‘Cold in here, isn’t it!’
Asked how his success felt, Williams said: ‘It feels a little bit uncomfortable at the minute. I had to wear the towel on the orders of Barry Hearn otherwise I would just have walked in, just crying.
‘It’s an unbelievable story. Twelve months ago I was thinking about chucking it, and here I am doing an interview having won the 2018 World Championship, naked.
‘If I won this again next year, I’d do this again – I’d cartwheel round here naked.’
Not since 45-year-old Ray Reardon won the last of his six titles has a man in their forties lifted the trophy. But the Welshman’s resurgence this season has been remarkable.
‘It’s unbelievable,’ said Williams. ‘Twelve months ago I wasn’t even here. I was watching it in a caravan sipping beers.
‘Last time I won I had a glass of milk and went to bed but I’m going to party the night away this time.’ Williams considered retirement after failing to even qualify for the sport’s showpiece event 12 months ago.
He was dissuaded by wife, Jo, and remodelled his technique with the help of alignment coach Steve Feeney. It has paid off and then some.
Williams ended a six-year barren spell with victories in Northern Ireland and Germany either side of Christmas and the £425,000 winner’s cheque he pocketed here takes his earnings this season to £885,400.
Williams poses for a photo with his family as he celebrated the two-frame win over Higgins
Williams embraces his partner after winning the World Championship on Monday night
‘I got emotional towards the end because it’s a big occasion,’ said Williams. ‘I was thinking about chucking it in last year.
‘I don’t know where it’s come from. I’ve done something I never thought I’d do again.’ A fifth title continues to elude Higgins who fell at the final hurdle for the second straight year.
The Scot overturned a 10-7 deficit against Judd Trump to win his last title in 2011 but required even greater powers of recovery seven years on as Williams won the first four frames on Monday to stretch his lead to seven.
Higgins knows such tasks are not insurmountable having seen a six-frame lead evaporate against Mark Selby in last year’s final.
He set about climbing his Everest and ended Williams’ seven-frame streak by winning the next three, before Williams had the last word in the afternoon to take a five-frame lead into the evening’s finale.
But Higgins’ steel has become the stuff of Sheffield legend and what followed after dinner ensured this will go down as one of the greatest nights at this fabled theatre.
Higgins delivered a barrage, winning the first five frames to make it eight out of nine and restore parity at 15-15.
Williams was forced to withstand a stirring effort from Higgins (pictured) who battled back
The Welshman clinches his third World Championship and his first in 15 years with the victory
As the clock ticked past 9pm, this two-day marathon was suddenly a best-of-five sprint.
Williams look shell-shocked but somehow summoned one last push.
He stopped the rot to prevent Higgins leading for the first time and moved one from victory with a century.
A 63 break took him one pot from glory but there was another twist as he rattled a simple pink to win and Higgins cleared up.
But Williams held his nerve and finally sealed victory with a break of 69.
‘If I’d lost I’d have been sick after having the pink to win,’ said Williams. ‘I’d expect to make that 48 times out of 50.
‘I don’t know where that last break came from but it’s one of the best I’ve made under pressure in my life. I’m over the moon.’
Not since 45-year-old Ray Reardon won had a man in his forties lifted the trophy until Monday