Snookerbacker

April 2, 2013

World Championship ‘To Qualify’ Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:33 pm
It's all about winners and losers.

It’s all about winners and losers.

The World Championship Qualifiers is one of the most exciting times of the year for snooker fans.

Personally I enjoy the tension of these as much as any main ranking event and far more than some of the others, there may not be a winner at the end of it but it provides the very best drama you can see on the baize, with 16 players emerging from over a week of snooker triumphant and delighted to be on their way to the Crucible.

Many of the players in these rounds will leave disappointed, for most if not all, the season will feel a bit empty if the final match they play is at the Badminton Hall in the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. But that is the harsh reality and of the full quota of tour professionals, the one qualifying amateur plus the members not on the tour who have their own pre-qualifying event starting on Thursday, the vast majority will be resigned to watching the World Championship at home come April 20th.

This event usually throws up a few shocks, players that haven’t done a great deal in the season can suddenly find their game, in the last two seasons the likes of Jimmy Robertson and Luca Brecel spring to mind. Players can use this as a springboard to a great time at the Crucible, Dave Gilbert, Cao Yupeng and most notably Jamie Jones can vouch for this from their exploits last year.

There are added twists too of course, old hands like Steve Davis and Jimmy White will want to be competing again while former champions Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon the latter of which may face Davis in the final qualifying round, will also want to return to the sport’s very own Theatre of Dreams.

Players who have made giant strides in the last twelve months will be hoping to cap off their seasons with a Crucible appearance, the likes of Jack Lisowski, Michael White, Ian Burns and Ben Woollaston will all be hoping for a Crucible debut this time around after promising seasons.

Then there are the two players from India, Aditya Mehta and Pankaj Advani who have both made venues this season and will be hoping to make the biggest one of them all. The Chinese contingent did well last year and Cao Yupeng, Liang Wenbo, Xiao Guodong, Liu Chuang and company will all be hoping to become national heroes in their homeland for keeping Ding company with a run in the biggest championship of them all.

It’s twitchy, it’s edgy, it’s nervy, it’s dramatic, for some it’s euphoric, for others it’s heartbreaking and for the likes of us who watch on from the sidelines it’s fantastic entertainment. Get involved from Saturday, you won’t regret it.

The draw is here but I have condensed it into sections for you below, I’m good like that.

Blog partners Apollobet have priced up all players to make it to the Crucible here and below I look at each section seperately, flagging up who I think will qualify and if appropriate a recommended bet.

The Sections (one qualifier from each group, first two players play first match and progress to play the next player)

1. Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v Scott Donaldson > Gerard Greene > Ben Woollaston > Ryan Day.

Main Pointers: It would be a major surprise if Day, Greene or Woollaston were not to make it from this section. Whilst Un-Nooh has been improving he was recently beaten 5-0 by Day, demonstrating the gulf in class. I would have to take a Woollaston v Day decider here as Greene’s form lately has deserted him. Day hasn’t missed a Crucible since 2007 and was a Quarter-Finalist last year and Ben was hammered 10-3 by Dominic Dale in the final round last year. Head to heads they are 1-1 but you’d have to favour the experience of the Welshman.

Predicted Qualifier: Ryan Day.

2. Zhang Anda v Passakorn Suwannawat > Cao Yupeng > Michael White > Andrew Higginson.

Main Pointers: Two big improvers this season have been Cao Yupeng and Michael White and surely it will be these two fighting it out to play Andrew Higginson. Yupeng famously shocked Mark Allen at the Crucible last season and had won four matches to qualify, one more than he has to this time. Michael White will need to improve greatly on his qualifying performances to date and was easily beaten last year by Yu Delu in a match most expected him to win. I think Yupeng will face Higginson, while Andrew will undoubtedly be favourite and has recent World Championship form after beating Stephen Lee last season as a qualifier, he did lose his previous two final qualifiers so a match up with a fully sharp Yupeng could be a close one.

Predicted Qualifier: Cao Yupeng.

Ken: Might be swapping the V-Neck for a Waistcoat at the Crucible.

Ken: Might be swapping the V-Neck for a Waistcoat at the Crucible.

3. Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon v Jamie O’Neill > Mike Dunn > Matt Selt > Ken Doherty.

Main Pointers: It’s only Thanawat’s second World Championship and Jamie O’Neill’s third, neither have ever won a best of nineteen match but TT has shown enough to suggest he can come through. Mike Dunn awaits the winner of that one and has been whitewashed by TT once this season, although he hadn’t practised for that particular match after a bout of illness, the winner will face Matt Selt who hasn’t had the best of seasons. Whoever comes through that one faces Ken Doherty and Ken has a 2-0 head to head over Dunn but has never played Selt. I can see Ken’s experience telling in this section and I predict him making a return to the Crucible, he’s one of the more confident picks.

Predicted Qualifier: Ken Doherty.

4. Michael Wasley v Sean O’Sullivan > James Wattana > Jack Lisowski > Fergal O’Brien.

Main Pointers: Two big improvers meet first up in Michael Wasley and Sean O’Sullivan in a section that is a real mix of youth and experience. Whoever wins that faces the vastly experienced James Wattana and he’s usually pretty reliable at this stage over the longer distance, though is without a win in 2013 so some may argue is there for the taking. Whatever happens in those two matches I do feel all eyes will be on Jack Lisowski, whose draw could have been a lot worse, I feel he’ll be lining up against Fergal for a place at the Crucible and although it doesn’t mean a great deal in this atmosphere, their only meeting to date Jack won 4-0 in the Welsh Open. The momentum is with Lisowski and I think he’ll make it this year for the first time at the third time of asking, the draw has been kinder to him this year than previously.

Predicted Qualifier: Jack Lisowski.

5. Dechawat Poomjaeng v Michael Leslie > Liu Chuang > Anthony Hamilton > Jamie Cope.

Main Pointers: Dechawat Poomjaeng is perhaps capable of winning a couple here but once he comes up against Anthony Hamilton you would expect him to struggle a bit. Liu Chuang has made the Crucible twice so knows what it takes and he could also be a dark horse in the section that includes one of the most out of form highest seeds in Cope. I’d marginally favour Hamilton to come through but wouldn’t be surprised if Chuang upset the odds, but this is a section that might offer value for outsider backers.

Predicted Qualifier: Anthony Hamilton.

6. Pre-Qualifier v Pankaj Advani > Adam Duffy > Mark Joyce > Michael Holt.

Main Pointers: The pre-qualifier adds uncertainty here as there are a few capable players in there this year including Joe Swail so that has to be factored in as a player like Swail is more than capable of a run here. However, Pankaj Advani is a player that is turning heads this season, he has a very mature game and plays in the World Snooker Championship for the first time, being the World Billiards Champion. I can see him having a run here (assuming he either doesn’t play Swail or gets past him) possibly even up to the last match against Michael Holt, though Mark Joyce has been playing well lately and may have the added incentive of nappies to buy to spur him on. Holt has to be favourite but I’d advise a small punt for interest at the odds on Advani, he beat the Hitman 6-4 in the International Championship qualifiers. Look out for Swail if he qualifies for this section though, he’s a funny player is Joe (66/1).

Predicted Qualifier: Pankaj Advani (or Joe Swail).

7. Tony Drago v Mohamed Khairy > Andy Hicks > David Gilbert > Marco Fu.

Main Pointers: I can’t see either of the players in the first match making it much further and while I have a lot of time for Andy Hicks, I feel his best days are behind him so you have to think that the Crucible qualifier will be between Gilbert, a last 16-er last year and beaten by Neil Robertson and German Masters runner-up Fu. Marco is the shortest price of all to qualify and while I would disagree with that as I really rate Gilbert, he has to be favourite. But don’t be surprised if the Tamworth man prevails i.e. don’t go mad on the Fu price.

Predicted Qualifier: Marco Fu.

Ford: Chance to make amends.

Ford: Chance to make amends.

8. Aditya Mehta v Daniel Wells > Alan McManus > Nigel Bond > Tom Ford.

Main Pointers: I am a big admirer of Aditya Mehta and really love the way he plays the game, his game seems somehow suited to the longer format and I expect him to beat Daniel Wells first up. But this is a section full of experience and for me Adi couldn’t have been drawn in a worse section, he’ll have players that play his type of game but play it better and have been playing it for longer in McManus and Bond, though it could be argued that Bond is a little more attacking minded than Angles. Regardless of this, Tom Ford will be very disappointed not to be lining up at the main event and I expect him to come through and make amends for the last two years when he has fallen at the last, both in very close encounters and both times against Chinese opposition.

Predicted Qualifier: Tom Ford.

9. Luca Brecel v Fraser Patrick (a), Rod Lawler > Anthony McGill > Martin Gould.

Main Pointers: Well, nobody can accuse the drawmakers of being kind to Luca Brecel this season as he has a really tough section featuring not only Martin Gould but also two real tough cookies in Rod Lawler and Ant McGill. Luca will need to build up a head of steam in his opener against the no-pushover amateur Fraser Patrick who himself has hammered Gould once this season. But the Belgian Bullet seems to enjoy the longer matches much more than he does the shorter ones judging by his results, it’s a big ask for him to qualify from here and if he does it he is truly a long-match specialist right after my own heart. This one for me will see Gould line up against Lawler and then it’s all about who controls the match, if Rod does he can cap off a brilliant season by reaching the Crucible for the first time since, wait for it, 1996 when he beat John Parrott in Round 1, but on balance it has to be Gould.

Predicted Qualifier: Martin Gould.

10. Robbie Williams v Li Yan > Jimmy Robertson > Liang Wenbo > Dark Mavis.

Main Pointers: Again here with due respect to the first three players above your eyes are drawn to the last two and Liang Wenbo will be hoping for a return to the Crucible where he really should have beaten John Higgins last season in the first round. Jimmy Robertson could be the dark horse in this section, he proved he was in form in China and has had a quiet season, possibly to his advantage. Both Liang and Jimmy have beaten Dark Mavis in the past and the unfortunate victim of Ronnie’s U-Turn must be wondering if the snooker gods have it in for him. I have under-estimated him in the past but for me it’s usually when rankings are the issue that he falters, he’s the best of this bunch by a country mile and deserves to be in the Last 32.

Predicted Qualifier: Dark Mavis.

11. Ian Burns v Joel Walker > Yu Delu > Jamie Burnett > Mark King.

OK, there is going to be a shock qualifier for the Crucible, there always is, it’s just a case of finding him. For those of us who follow snooker all season, the term shock about Ian Burns qualifying might be a little too much, after all he’s been improving all season and beating higher ranked players regularly. His path to a possible meeting with Mark King could have been a whole lot worse, Joel Walker is a decent player but his results aren’t anywhere near as good as Burns, Yu Delu falls into a similar category and Jamie Burnett for me is not the player he was last season. That leaves King, who is routinely under-estimated by many, but not me. I really think Burns could win his first three here and because of his the price is worth a punt, even if you have to back King to lay it off.

Predicted Qualifier: Ian Burns.

12. Liam Highfield v Simon Bedford > Barry Pinches > Jamie Jones > Marcus Campbell.

Main Pointers: Some questions here about a couple of these in terms of form, in particular about last season’s Quarter Finalist at the Crucible Jamie Jones who appears to have totally lost his way since then for no apparent reason. If he regains his form, which he will have to if he is to stand any chance of a repeat visit, he is in a winnable section but it’s a very big ‘if’. I’d fancy Highfield to beat Simon Bedford, then Pinches to beat Highfield, then Jones to beat Pinches then……….well he’s got to come back to form sometime hasn’t he?…..Jones to beat a man in far better form, Marcus Campbell. Call it a hunch.  

Predicted Qualifier: Jamie Jones.

Rory: Bringing the tools.

Rory: Bringing the tools.

13. Chen Zhe v Sam Baird > Peter Lines > Rory McLeod > Joe Perry.

Main Pointers: Sam Baird seems a real confidence player and there is nothing to say that he might not be the ‘unexpected guest’ at the Crucible this year, but in the past he has shown some glimpses prior to good runs and at the moment despite an OK run in the Welsh Open we’re not really seeing it, his match with Chen Zhe could be close but I would not fancy either of them to beat Peter Lines. I have heard some encouraging noises from the Rory McLeod camp and while Lines did beat him at the same stage last year they are enough to convince me that he could reverse that and set up a match with Joe Perry for a place in the last 32. For me, if Rory has that under his belt that match could go either way and both can struggle a bit with nerves when it goes close, at the prices I’ll take a chance on The Dentist.  

Predicted Qualifier: Rory McLeod.

14. Pre-Qualifier v Paul Davison > Alfie Burden > Dave Harold > Dominic Dale.

Main Pointers: The other section with the pre-qualifer complication and assuming the ‘Qualifier 2’ means the bottom half of the members tournament this might be Patrick Wallace or Lucky Vatnani, both capable but you would think both highly beatable for Paul Davison. It’s a bit of a veterans section this although The AB of London Alfie Burden won’t thank me for saying that with his timeless Dorian Gray-esque looks. Tough, long matches look the order of the day unless Alfie can dictate against Davison and Dave Harold. If you were to study this section in a horse racing way, there is only one winner. A line through Dave Harold has him bossing the head to heads with Alfie and never having beaten Dominic Dale in five attempts, who Alfie has also not beaten in his last three attempts and only once in five. So logic says Dale will be returning again to the Crucible to the delight of his largely female fanbase, which I will admit I have never really understood.

Predicted Qualifier: Dominic Dale.

15. Craig Steadman v David Grace > Kurt Maflin > Steve Davis > Peter Ebdon.

Main Pointers: With due respect to Stedz, Graceybaby and Maffers, there won’t be a purist around that would not want to be watching a match on the live stream between Steve Davis and Peter Ebdon to qualify for the Crucible, the stuff of dreams. But parties of course are there to be spoilt so can any of the three lesser lights steal the show? I’d suggest that if Davis was the top seed in this section and swapped places with Ebdon he would be a shoo-in to reach the Crucible, but as it stands he will have to beat in my view Maflin to get to that final match with Ebbo. But recent history is in the Nugget’s favour having done just that in the Welsh Open. Ebbo’s form lately has been awful, truly truly awful with no sign of any type of recovery any time soon. It’s the winner of Maflin and Davis for me in this section and I will once again dare to dream…..

Predicted Qualifier: Sir Steve Davis.

16. Tian Pengfei v Martin O’Donnell > Jimmy White > Xiao Guodong > Robert Milkins.

Main Pointers: To win at betting you must cast aside who you want to win in favour of who you think will win. Indeed in at least half of the previews above I have posted a prediction through gritted teeth knowing how much a slot at the Crucible would mean to some at the expense of others, but none more so than now. The MO’D is my original tournament champion and with every bone in my body I want to see him at the Crucible in three weeks time. His first round draw is pretty shit to be honest and he will do well to win, the good news is however that if he does I would fancy him all day long to beat Jimmy and will start getting excited, as I would Tian Pengfei (without the excited bit as I’d then want Jimmy to win). But for me the player at the end is the one they all need to beat, Milkins actually beat Guodong in the final qualifying round quite comfortably last year and I think that might happen again. But it’s no bet and #comeontheMOD from me.

Predicted Qualifier: Robert Milkins.

Recommended Apollobet Bets on this link:

5 points each on Dominic Dale (1/2), Ken Doherty (8/15), Jack Lisowski (11/10).

3 points each on Tom Ford (8/15), Rory McLeod (5/2).

2 points each on Jamie Jones (5/2), Cao Yupeng (13/2).

1 point each on Steve Davis (3/1), Ian Burns (9/1), Pankaj Advani (14/1), Joe Swail (66/1).

ADDED BETS: 3 points on the Special Acca Dale, Doherty and Lisowski at 10/3 and 2 points on the Special Acca Day, Milkins, Gould, Fu and Lisowski at 13/2 – both priced up at Skybet.   

To open an account with Apollobet and receive their free bet offer click the banner below 

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Countdown to the Crucible Part Two – The Nineties: The Missed Black, The Wonder Bairn and the 147 Rocket Launch

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:30 am

‘He’s beginning to annoy me’ Stephen and Jimmy before their last and most dramatic final together in 1994

It’s time for another recycled gem from the archives as I chart my own personal Crucible snooker journey through the 1990’s, if anyone missed Part One of the greatest trilogy since Back to the Future, you can read that by clicking here.

This post was originally written in 2010 back in the early days of the blog so I will let the younger me take over from here…

The period of snooker played in Sheffield between 1990 and 1999 can really be summed up in two words; Stephen Hendry.

The first five years of the decade, with a courteous nod to 1991 champ John Parrott, can be summed up in five; Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White.

Here are some brief facts before we move on:

  • Of the ten finals contested in this decade, Hendry played in eight, losing only one.
  • The first five finals of the 90’s all featured Jimmy White.
  • There were only seven players that contested 90’s Crucible finals and only three in the first five of the decade.

Given the facts above, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a rather boring decade in terms of Crucible moments, and for me particular lows came in 1995 and 1996 when the Championship had lost a bit of it’s magic, but in amongst the statistics were some absolutely unforgettable moments in Crucible history.

The 1990 event started in controversial circumstances with our old friend the Hurricane getting involved in an altercation with a match official (he punched him in the stomach for no reason just before the clip I’ve included here), after losing to Brummie Biker Steve James in the first round before announcing his retirement in typical Alex fashion, though they have edited out the part where he uttered the eloquent line ‘ya can stick yer snooker up yer jacksy’. As it turned out however this was slightly premature and not one of the Hurricane’s better predictions as he did actually appear at the Crucible one further time following his 2 year ban for this, in 1994, losing to Ken Doherty. His final shots at the Crucible appear here.

But 1990 saw the start of one of the games great rivalries. Anyone who read Part One of my countdown will recall that as a teenager in 1984 I had sat sulking on my bed after my hero Jimmy was beaten in the final by Steve Davis, but consoled myself with the thought that he’d be back stronger than ever to win it multiple times. How wrong I was.

Somehow, Jimmy managed to go another six years before making his next final, against new kid in town Hendry, the young pretender who two years earlier Jimmy had stopped in his tracks in Round Two on a decider but who had this year, it turned out somewhat symbolically, beaten the-then undisputed king of the Crucible and holder Steve Davis 16-14 in the semi-final, an almost ‘the King is dead, long live the King’ point in time in the game’s history. I’d like to say I was confident, but by now, having turned 20 and long since realised I’d never make the standard to compete at this level, I had been aware of just how good Hendry was now for a few years, having played him when I was 15 at Pontins and seen him go on in massive leaps and bounds from there in a very short space of time (I like to think that he realised after playing me that he needed to improve, I like to think that, but it isn’t true of course, he beat me 2-0 quite comfortably I recall and his handshake didn’t exactly purvey a mutual respect, but he had more spots than I did so I consoled myself with that). There was no doubt that Jimmy was in for a test, even given his upper hand in experience. Needless to say, Hendry was superb, his iron-nerve holding to lift the first of his seven titles and becoming at 21, the youngest ever World Champion, even then it was clear that this boy was not going away.

Steve James – The Missing Link

But in 1991, Hendry, a strong favourite to retain his title faltered in the quarter final against that man again, Steve James who found himself in an unexpected semi-final date with Jimmy which the Whirlwind duly won to set up a final with Professional Scouser John Parrott. Surely this year my hero would make it third time lucky? Parrott had crumbled two years earlier in the final and was demolished by Steve Davis so Jimmy must surely start a huge favourite for this. But old JP played what he has described multiple times since as ‘the session of meee life’  to lead 8-0 (or it may have been 7), but whatever, from then Jimmy was playing catch up and never got those frames back, losing 18-11.

1992 saw Jimmy in magnificent form, during his 10-4 victory over Tony Drago in the first round he became only the second player to compile a 147 maximum break at Sheffield, to watch it again click here. Despite the fact that the whispers had now well and truly started that Jimmy ‘might never win it’, I still had faith in my man, despite the presence of a steel nerved Hendry who powered his way to the final with ease. Jimmy could take him this time, I was sure of it, he was playing better this year than ever before. It seemed, right up until the final session that at last, my faith was justified. Jimmy led 14-8 going into the final evening and was playing magnificently. Then, yet again, the unthinkable happened. Hendry won 10 frames in a row (still a record at the Crucible) to leave a stunned Whirlwind looking more like a light breeze in his sorry chair. That was it, he was never going to win it, I told myself.

Ronnie – One for the future perhaps?

1993 was notable for one thing, a 17 year old young man of whom great things were expected played at the Crucible for the first time. A raw talent, who had won his first 38 matches as a professional was beaten 10-7 in the first round by Alan McManus, he went by the name of Ronnie Antonio O’Sullivan, a great future lay ahead and a few months later he would be crowned UK Champion, still at 17, the youngest ever winner of a ranking event, a record very unlikely to be beaten. Would this boy eclipse Hendry’s accolade of being the youngest ever world champ?

But largely 1993 passed by with a whimper, Hendry in total dominance. Jimmy again made the final, I again thought, maybe, just maybe, but no, not even a final session this time as he was trounced 18-5 in a one-sided exhibition of winning snooker from the Scot. Surely now then, I must admit defeat and list Jimmy as ‘the greatest player never to win at the Crucible’.

Then came 1994.

Hendry had started the tournament with a 10-1 victory, he then injured his arm, his participation at one point being described as doubtful. However on his return he beat a pre-banana Dave Harold 13-2 and everyone wondered what all the fuss was about. 1994 was also notable for a resurgence in the fortunes of the Nuggett, Steve Davis who beat Les Dodd, Steve James (him again) and James Watanna before eventually losing to Hendry in the semi-final. This tournament also featured one of the greatest Crucible comebacks when Nigel Bond came back from 9-2 down against Cliff Thorburn to win 10-9. 1994 was the Grinder’s last appearance at the Crucible, he’d had enough.

In the other half of the draw Jimmy was quietly making his way to yet another final with some much less ‘Whirlwind’ style snooker and a more methodical approach, it seemed to be working and victories over Ken Doherty and Neal Foulds, before a stress free semi-final win against Darren Morgan put him through for what was to be the fourth and final time he’d play Hendry in the final. It was now becoming something of a yearly ritual but this one was to prove to be Jimmy’s last, but undoubtedly the pair’s most dramatic.

Maybe it was all a bad dream?

The first three sessions and most of the last of the final are a blur to me, a complete blur. But unfortunately I remember with crystal clarity what happened at the end. Never has one shot, in one place, at one time summed up a career so succinctly. I remember the detail down to Dennis Taylor’s one sided commentary and huge sigh when ‘that shot’ happened. I can’t even bring myself to write any more about it. For those that are brave enough to watch Jimmy’s last shot ever in a World Final, it’s here along with what followed. I won’t be joining you, it’s just too painful and I’m still not 100% sure that the therapy actually worked. Let me know if, when you watch it again the black actually went in and it was all a dream.

Afterwards, almost ten years to the day since I consoled myself in my teenage bedroom with tea and biscuits and the knowledge that Jimmy would have his chance again, I reached for something stronger and sat in silence, wondering where it all went wrong. We both knew, deep down that the dream had come to an end. It was just so difficult to come to terms with and even more difficult to say. It was the end of an era. Something had died that night, never to return. It was now time to move on.

Then came a lull for me in 1995. I, along with a nation of Jimmy followers had finally given up on my man and an argument and temporary split with snooker followed, it’s fair to say that it lasted for a few years after that to varying degrees. Jimmy made the semi-final in 95, losing to, guess who? Hendry winning his fifth final against Nigel Bond. But it wasn’t to be the last time the two old rivals met at the Crucible, that was to come a whole three more years later. Hendry’s sixth title followed like night follows day in 1996 but included hints of what might be to come in the next decade and beyond when a young Scot named Higgins and the enigmatic O’Sullivan contested a high quality Quarter Final match that finished in a 13-12 win for Ronnie. The Rocket narrowly missing out on a final spot when beaten by runner up Peter Ebdon in the semis.

John Higgins – Ready to take the baton from Hendry?

1997 saw something very special in Round 1. Recorded at a time of just 5 minutes and 20 seconds, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s fastest ever maximum break against upside-down glasses man and 90’s heart-throb, Mick Price, it’s still an incredible watch, but despite racking up ranking event wins he still didn’t win the big one. This year saw another new face in the final. The likeable Irishman, Ken Doherty. Would he be the one to stop the Hendry dominance and do what Jimmy, Nigel and Peter could not? The answer was yes, Hendry never competed with Ken who played some very solid snooker to break the hold that the Scot had on the title for the previous five years and secure Ken a place in all Dubliners hearts forever. The brave predicted the beginning of the end for the Scot, who would have to settle for equalling the six titles of Ray Reardon and Steve Davis.

This was to be Ken’s one and only world title, but given his contribution to the game he will surely go down as a worthy winner. He defended it valiantly the following year losing in the final. It was this year, 1998 which included Jimmy’s second victory over Hendry at the Crucible, this time in Round 1, by 10 frames to 4, but it can hardly be described as the last laugh as qualifier Jimmy was soon stopped at the Quarter Final stage by O’Sullivan, who must by now have been getting impatient to win the big one; Higgins gaining revenge on him in the Semi Finals before going on to pick up his first world title in impressive fashion, in which he looked every inch the new Hendry and a potential dominating force in the first decade of the new millenium.

But just like Steve Davis finished off in the 1980’s, the 90’s finished very much as they began with the a victory for the magnificent Hendry, who cemented his reputation by going one better than those before him with a seventh title, secured against young Welshman Mark Williams. The doubters were silenced.

Surely we will never see his like again, nerves of steel, the courage of a lion, the ultimate winner, the ultimate competitor and the ultimate champion. Snooker has indeed been very lucky with it’s champions, but unlike the close of the eighties we hadn’t quite seen the end of the king of the 90’s just yet…..

Concrete Crucible Conkers

For the musical interlude to this particular decade, I’d like to say ‘Enjoy’ in the time-honoured American way but, I really should say for the second time in this piece, click here if you’re brave, or in this case tone-deaf enough:

I knew there was a reason that I fell out of love with snooker in the mid-nineties. That guy has a lot to answer for, what was he thinking?

For those with any faith left in me; The Countdown to the Crucible Part Three will follow soon.

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