World champion Mark Williams says he “thought he was finished five years ago” and did not expect to win the title for a third time.
The Welshman held off John Higgins’ fightback to triumph 18-16 – 15 years after his last success at the Crucible.
Williams turned up to his post-match news conference naked after promising to do so earlier in the tournament.
“The turnaround in the past 12 months is something I cannot work out,” the 43-year-old told BBC Sport.
“I am very surprised how well I have done. I did not think there was another title in me 12 months ago.
“If there is another world title in me, that would be unbelievable. If there is not, then I can’t grumble.”
The 2000 and 2003 champion had not won a ranking event since 2011 before this season and did not even qualify for the Crucible last year.
At that point he considered retiring, but with three young children to provide for was persuaded to continue by his wife, Joanne.
He claimed the Northern Ireland Open and German Masters this season and is the oldest world champion since 45-year-old Ray Reardon in 1978.
“This was one of the most enjoyable matches and it was always going to be tough against John,” he said.
“The occasion was brilliant and the crowd got involved too. It was an emotional experience that I did not think I was going to get again.
“I am not going to emulate Reardon by winning it six times. Twice is brilliant but three times is unbelievable.”
‘The best break of my life’
Williams was 14-7 up in the season-ending showpiece before being pegged back to 15-15 and, despite missing championship ball on a pink, he held himself together to triumph against his 42-year-old Scottish opponent Higgins, a four-time champion.
He also paid tribute to his coach Steve Feeney, who has worked on his “alignment and getting the right aim” on shots.
Williams’ victory was a throwback to the turn of the century when he was the best player in the world, making incredible long-range pots and frame-winning contributions throughout the match.
“I don’t know why it has taken so long to win another,” he said. “Maybe it was my motivation and not working as hard as before.
“I had my hand on the trophy when I missed the pink – but to come out after that, I made of the best breaks in my life.”
Higgins loses his ‘dream’ final
The final pitched two players from snooker’s ‘class of 92’, turning professional that year along with five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
But Higgins was left to rue a bad start and his superb comeback was in vain.
He said: “When you are rivals like me, Ronnie and Mark are you can’t be friends because they are winning titles you are after.
“It has never stopped me from having an unbelievable amount of respect for Mark as a player.
“We are getting to the twilight of our careers and it was a dream to play someone like Mark in the final.
“I have played Ronnie before in 2001, but this late in our careers, the atmosphere was incredible.
“The juices were flowing and these moments are what you live for – but I came up just short.”
‘One of the greatest finals’ – analysis
Six-time world champion Steve Davis on BBC Two: “What a magnificent performance from Mark Williams. The mental fortitude to not wilt under that pressure is immense. It was one of the greatest finals we’ve ever seen. The standard was fantastic.”
Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry: “You have to admire the way Mark Williams played after Higgins levelled the match. He was so calm and showed what an incredible temperament he has. He found a gear from somewhere and eased away again from his opponent.”
Masters champion Mark Allen on Twitter: “The best final I’ve ever watched. Twists and turns, comebacks and clearances. Credit to the game. The rest of us have to catch up with these old guys. Well done @markwil147 and hard lines John Higgins.”
Crucible semi-finalist Kyren Wilson on Twitter: “What an incredible final. The standard was through the roof! Congratulations to @markwil147 – chuffed for you and your family.”
Former world champion Peter Ebdon on Twitter: “Amazing character shown by both players. What an incredible final. Two of the greatest players of all time have both just got even greater.”
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