SNOOKER: Mark King beats Barry Hawkins to win NI Open title

Mark King
Mark King

Mark King ended a 25-year wait for a ranking title as he edged out Barry Hawkins 9-8 in a pulsating Northern Ireland Open final in Belfast.

Hawkins raced into a 5-1 lead after breaks of 83 and 113 but King, who was playing his first ranking final since the 2004 Irish Masters, responded with frames of 48 and 42 to cut the deficit to two frames at the end of the first session.

King, who had never won a ranking title in 25 years as a professional, reeled off another four frames, including breaks of 62, 100 and 54, to lead 7-5. Hawkins, however, fought back to draw level with breaks of 73 and 76.

A stroke of luck saw King snatch the 15th frame and lead 8-7. The 42-year-old then forced a black ball re-spot in the 16th but missed the chance to seal the title, allowing Hawkins to force a decider.

However, the Romford potter made no mistake in the final frame to claim the Alex Higgins Trophy.

Meanwhile 25years after blazing a trail as the first Asian player to gatecrash the snooker elite, James Wattana will head into this year’s UK Championships intent on relishing every moment of his unlikely career resurrection.

The 46-year-old Thai faces Judd Trump in the first round at York today, fresh from reaching the last 16 of the China Open last month, the first time he has achieved such a feat in a major ranking event since 2006.

In his prime Wattana, who now plays as an amateur with a two-year invitational tour card, twice reached the semi-finals of both the World and UK Championships and was ranked as high as third in the world, but could never quite fulfil his billing as the first Asian major champion-elect.

Wattana said: “I am trying to enjoy playing against the top players in the world and I believe I have a stronger mentality compared to when I look back, and one which might have made the difference.

“I had an eye operation at the start of this season which is helping me see the balls more clearly than I have done in years.

“ I have developed my all-round game much more and I still have my dreams and my targets in the sport. I am looking forward to the challenges this week.”