Mark Williams may have gone off the boil in the latter part of the decade but, in its early years, he was the game’s most consistent force.
Ronnie O’Sullivan said, after beating him to reach the 2001 UK Championship final, that he would happily pay for him to go and lie on a beach so that he wouldn’t have to play him again.
With Williams at his best, it wasn’t just about potting and breakbuilding. He had a guile and table-craft that undid many a player.
When he won the 2003 LG Cup it meant he simultaneously held all four BBC titles, something only Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry had previously accomplished.
And when Williams was world no.1 he was as authentic a top dog as those twin titans.
A fiercely talented long potter, Williams was a better player than had been widely recognised. One of his great skills was in finding ways to win matches when not at his best. He invariably scrapped through a couple of rounds before upping his game and peaking at the business end of tournaments.
He trailed his fellow Welshman, Matthew Stevens, 13-7 in the 2000 World Championship final but, with his iron will to win kicking in, recovered to beat him 18-16.
It didn’t go to his head. His laid back nature – a stark contrast to his competitive disposition in the arena – remained despite his success.
He was in some ways a reluctant world no.1. Media interviews did not come easily to him. He didn’t push himself forward or attempt to cultivate an image for himself.
On the table, he was on fire. From February 1998 to November 2003 he successfully negotiated the opening round of 48 successive ranking events, a record that will take some beating.
In this period he won a second UK Championship title, pipping Ken Doherty 10-9 in 2002.
Doherty was also his victim in a thrilling 2003 Crucible final, which Williams led 11-4 before being severely tested and eventually winning 18-16.
He also won a second Wembley Masters title in 2003 and that year became only the third player, after Davis and Hendry, to win the ‘big three’ in the same season.
He thus became – and remains – only the second player to win more than £700,000 in a single campaign.
In 2005, he made a Crucible maximum but Williams’s consistency left him for various reasons, one of which was possibly a sense of contentment at his achievements.
He won the 2006 China Open but would drop out of the top 16 in 2008 after some very disappointing results.
He’s back now and, though not fully returned to his best, is still a player nobody wants to draw.