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Page last updated at 21:29 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 22:29 UK

Wales' kings of the baize: Best Welsh snooker players

By Sean Davies

Wales has a glorious tradition for producing stars of the ultimate 12 x 6 indoor challenge.

But which of the country's cueing kings is the greatest? Take a look at the top five.

Matthew Stevens has twice been the runner-up at the World Championship
Matthew Stevens has twice been the runner-up at the World Championship

The Carmarthen cue-er has all the talent in the world and could still have the potential to advance further up this list.

He excels in longer matches, making the final of the World Championship in 2000 and 2005.

He lost the first time, 18-16 to compatriot Mark Williams having led 14-10, then 18-16 to Shaun Murphy in 2005 when he had been 10-6 ahead overnight.

Each defeat was felt keenly by the Welshman and his form suffered badly in the aftermath.

Stevens has dropped out of the top 16 in the world and many fear that his latest dip could be terminal for his career.

But should the 2000 Masters and 2003 UK Championship winner get back to his best, he is capable of mixing it with the elite of the modern game.

Stevens is young enough to rise again, and his polished, heavy-scoring style gives him the potential to mix it with the elite of the modern game.

Matthew Stevens

Replay: Stevens comes close to 147

Ebbw Vale's former miner Doug Mountjoy was the hard man of the circuit in the 1970s and '80s
Ex-miner Mountjoy was the hard man of the circuit in the 1970s and '80s

The hard-man ex-miner from Ebbw Vale fought his way into the professional ranks and stunned the snooker world by winning his first professional tournament - the Benson & Hedges Masters in 1976 - having entered as a late stand-in.

Mountjoy was always a battler, a regular fixture at the business end of tournaments in snooker's first golden television age.

Perhaps his finest moment came in the 1981 World Championships at the Crucible.

He fought through an all-Welsh semi-final 16-10 against Ray Reardon, recording a then-record 145 break on the way.

In the final he met Steve Davis at the peak of his powers.

Mountjoy made the Romford legend sweat until the last ball went in, but it was not enough and he fell to an 18-12 defeat.

The Gwent man went on to become coach to the United Arab Emirates, basing himself in Dubai.

Steve Davis

Replay: Davis beats Mountjoy to win 1981 Crucible crown

1979 world champion Terry Griffiths vied with Steve Davis for domination of the baize throughout the 1980s
1979 world champion Griffiths vied with Steve Davis for '80s domination

The Llanelli "Grinder" exploded onto the scene by winning the 1979 World Championship, just his second tournament as a professional.

It is hard to imagine the methodical Griffiths as a young tyro, but the coiffured cue-master was one of the hottest talents on the snooker circuit and looked poised to dominate the game for years to come.

Just one thing stopped him - Steve Davis.

Griffiths peaked at the same time as the Nugget, and throughout the '80s it was a familiar tale of both men advancing to the final of major tournaments, only for Davis to walk away with the trophies.

It was Davis who denied Griffiths a second world crown in the 1988 final, but since retiring from playing the Llanelli man has proved one of the most successful coaches on the circuit.

Mark Williams lifts the 2000 world title after beating Matthew Stevens
Mark Williams lifts the 2000 world title after beating Matthew Stevens

Williams, born just a short hop across the Sirhowy valley from Ray Reardon in Cwm, will never terrorise the game in the way that Dracula did in the '70s - there are just too many top-quality professionals around these days.

The young pretender lacks consistency, but the sheer quality of the play he is able to produce sees him as a serious contender for the title of Wales' greatest snooker player.

When Williams gets into his groove, he has proved himself capable of dominating the game at a time when snooker has perhaps its highest quality operators around.

He has been ranked number one for three seasons in his career, despite competing against the likes of Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins.

Yet, after claiming his first world title in 2000, the Gwent man won just one tournament the following year.

His 2002/3 season was perhaps the finest ever produced by a Welshman, Williams' stunning potting and devastating attacking play seeing him win the UK Championship, Masters and World title.

He has since struggled to attain anything near that peak and - remarkably for a player of his ability - dropped out of the top 16 in 2008/9.

He went four years without a ranking tournament win, but you write Williams off at your peril and he bounced back to form to claim the 2010 China Open, the 17th ranking win of his career.

Should he find some sustained form, he could yet challenge Reardon for the title of Wales' all-time greatest.

Robert Milkins shakes Mark Williams' hand

Archive - Williams joins Crucible 147 club

Known as "Dracula", six-time world champion Ray Reardon strangled terrified opponents
Known as "Dracula", six-time world champion Reardon terrified foes

Reardon is a legend of the game, a six-time world champion who dominated the '70s as comprehensively as Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry ruled the following two decades.

Nick-named Dracula, the Tredegar man terrified opponents with his control of the tactical situation, strangling the life from their game as he kept them cueing into blind alleys.

Reardon played on as a new form of snooker began to emerge, with faster cloths and larger pockets favouring attacking play and the long-pot sharpshooters.

Failing eyesight also hampered him, despite his adoption of Dennis Taylor-style droopy glasses.

It was never an easy night against the Welshman, though, and he narrowly missed out on a seventh world title in the final against Alex Higgins in 1982.

Alex Higgins wins the 1982 Snooker World Championship

Archive - Alex Higgins v Ray Reardon, 1982

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see also
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BBC Sport Wales coverage
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Snooker on the BBC
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