April 16, 2013

Important Notice for Apollobet Customers

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 4:00 pm
The new Apollobet website will be launched this week

The new Apollobet website will be launched this week

As regulars will know this blog has partnership with Apollobet and I know a lot of people who visit here have opened accounts with them on the last 12 months.

Tomorrow, Apollobet will be moving their server which means there are a couple of things that customers will have to do:

1. All customers with funds in their Apollobet accounts should draw down these funds back to your bank tonight.

2. Once the new site is up and running from Wednesday morning you should enter your username and then follow the instructions to reset passwords and bank details.

The good news is that the new site will be far more user-friendly for punters, it will also offer a full in-running program with numerous different betting opportunities every day, it will also have both android and ios mobile applications.

The guys at Apollobet have asked me to let people know about this from the blog but if you are a customer you should also check your registered email address with them for full details.

If anyone has any questions then you can tweet @Apollobet or return the email that was sent to you.

They are working hard to make this a better service for snooker punters and have listened to all the comments about their website and I’m sure that the new website will be worth this slight inconvenience in the short term to customers. The guys do appreciate customers patience and co-operation in this matter.   

Countdown to the Crucible Part Three: The Age of the Rocket and the Fall of a Golden Star

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 2:30 pm

But Ronnie’s relationship with the game hasn’t always been so harmonious.

It’s not long now until the curtain is raised on this year’s World Championship so while I beaver away at a preview it’s now time to wrap up my countdown trilogy with Part Three of Three charting the year’s 2000-2010. I shall let my three years younger self guide you through this decade….

We now come to the third and final retrospective of the Crucible years. The story of the ‘Noughties’.

In Part One I recounted how I fell in love with the game through the genius of Alex Higgins and Jimmy White against the backdrop of Davis dominance. To read it click this link. Part Two recalled the 1990’s which again belonged to one man, this time it was Stephen Hendry and I told of the utter despair that came with the realisation that Jimmy would never lift the trophy under the twinkling lights of Sheffield. To read this click this link.

This third and final instalment tells the story of a more competitive decade which saw 12 seperate finalists and 6 champions only one of whom had lifted the title before the decade began. But although the dominance of one player that accompanied the two previous decades didn’t materialise in the first decade of the millenium, it will be remembered largely for the emergence of who many believe to be the greatest snooker player of all time, the complicated genius that is Ronnie O’Sullivan.

The 2000 Embassy World Championship saw Hendry make his first attempt to do something that Steve Davis never did, to continue his dominance and win the title over two decades. Many still believed that Hendry’s eighth title was a matter of when rather than if, some thought he’d make ten, such was his winning mentality. But the decade started with a shock, with holder and world number one Hendry losing 10-7 in the first round to qualifier Stuart Bingham, who went on to lose to the eternal trier Jimmy White in the following round. Ronnie too, started badly, the number 4 seed losing in his opener to David Gray. The runner-up to Hendry the year earlier Mark Williams became the champion for the first time in 2000, beating fellow Welshman and bright prospect Matthew Stevens in a tense, highly entertaining final. Stevens showing signs of Jimmy’s snatching to throw away a healthy lead and eventually lose 18-16.

The Nugget – Golden Showers against Dott

One thing I particularly remember this year for was the regular Steve Davis toilet runs against Graeme Dott in the first round, when the Scot accused the great one of gamesmanship as he seemed to disappear to the gents every ten minutes, many predicted incontinence, but whatever the reason it worked and a mischievous Steve came through before being narrowly beaten by John Higgins 13-11 in round 2.

The following year marked a different type of milestone for Davis and indeed for Jimmy, 2001 being the first time they had each failed to qualify for the big event in their illustrious careers.

It had been 8 years since Ronnie O’Sullivan first graced the Crucible, since that time he had won every other title and accolade that the game had to throw at him, he was widely regarded by now as an extraordinary talent, but had still failed to capture the big one. This changed in 2001, when after an effortless path to the final the Rocket came up against his (still) great rival John Higgins who had broken the heart of Stevens again in the semi-final. In a titanic struggle, Ronnie secured a 18-14 victory to clinch his first world title. He was now, at last, on top of the world. Ronnie dedicated his win to his father, who by now was well into a stretch in prison for murder. It seemed that Ronnie was going to rule the roost for a while.

‘Ne, Ne, Ne – get back to your sad little life’

While all this was happening there was one man who hadn’t quite given up hope of a return to glory, no not Jimmy, though he still professed to be ‘flying in practice’ but Hendry. He had been involved in some incredible non- Crucible encounters with O’Sullivan but it is fair to say that though the respect for each other on the table was there, the friendship off it was not. This was illustrated just before their semi-final match in this tournament when the holder Ronnie, rather childishly said ‘I know if I do get beat and he (Hendry) does come up and does a moonie in front of me and goes ‘Ne Ne Ne’, I’ll just look at him, say well done and go back to your sad little life’. Yes quite. The two met in the Semi Final in 2002 and Hendry won 17-13. He stopped short of saying Ne Ne Ne though and only pulled a moonie when the cameras were switched off.

This set up a final which promised to be the crowning of King Hendry the Eighth, only the determined Peter Ebdon who Hendry had beaten soundly a few years earlier in the final stood in the way. But Ebdon had learned from the fatigue that he’d suffered in his first final and paced himself admirably to win a classic final 18-17. It would be the last time we would see Stephen in the final, having now appeared a record 9 times, losing only twice. An incredible record.

In 2003 Ronnie did this again becoming the first player to make two 147’s at the Crucible, but amazingly, this was one of only six frames Ronnie won this year as he bowed out 10-6 in this very match against Marco Fu. Hendry continued to search in vain for that eighth title losing in the Quarter Finals to eventual champion, Mark Williams who secured his second title of the decade by beating the magnificent comeback king and arguably the man of the tournament Ken Doherty 18-16 in a riveting final.

The Late Great Paul Hunter

But 2003 will be remembered mostly for this semi final match between Ken and Paul Hunter (check out the fluked blue in frame 31) , anyone who thinks snooker is boring has to watch this to remember just what a match this was, I’d have it in my all time top 5. You’ll recall that in the previous preview I mentioned that I fell in and out of love with the game since Jimmy blew it in the final in 1994, well this was this year that I began to rekindle my love for the game in earnest after some barren years, this match being largely responsible for that.

In the clip above a poignant note is struck by Clive Everton when he states that the two players would remember the match for ‘the rest of their lives’ tragically, for Paul this would be little short of three more years. He is truly sadly missed, who knows what he might have gone on to achieve, the game and the world is a sadder, less cheerful place without him.

Ronnie pays tribute to Ray

2004 belonged to Ronnie who despite showing some signs of erratic behaviour early on in the event and sporting a pornstar haircut was eventually put back on the straight and narrow by none other than Dracula himself, Mr Ray Reardon, who had been contacted from prison by Ronnie Snr. to ‘sort my boy out’, he did just that, Ronnie must have forgotten to bring garlic as whatever Ray did worked wonders and a crushing victory in the semi finals over old foe Hendry (17-4) remains the biggest margin of victory at this stage, he followed this by easily defeating unlikely finalist, the diminuitive Scot Graeme Dott. Many wondered how Dott made it there, much in the same way as they’d wondered about Nigel Bond in the nineties, but this particular pocket dynamo was to make a return and a more successful one, two years later. This year was also notable for Matthew Stevens winning a deciding frame, in an epic round 2 struggle with Hunter which is replayed here.

The 147 bandwagon kept on rolling in 2005 and this time it was Mark Williams that jumped on board, the 6th in all against Rob Milkins, it can be watched here. Williams truly was and still is some player and one of the true greats of the sport. The tournament itself threw up a surprise much like 20 years earlier when Dennis Taylor surprised the nation with his win. This time it came in the form of baby-faced assassin Shaun Murphy, a 150-1 shot, god-botherer and qualifier who disposed of John Higgins and the ever present Steve Davis amongst others to set a date with Matthew Stevens in the final. Stevens now firmly establishing himself as this decade’s Jimmy White in terms of throwing away opportunities to win the big one, whether it be in the semi-final or final, he’d always find someone to beat him. It happened again here as Murphy did a professional job and deserved his victory.

Eventual Champ Murphy on his way to a semi-final win over Ebdon

This was the tournament when a shaven headed Ronnie went into meltdown against Peter Ebdon losing 13-11 in the quarter final, apparently he shaved his head as he saw himself on the TV in the first round and was shocked and dismayed that he ‘looked like Michael Holt’.

2006 saw a new era in terms of sponsorship, with tobacco sponsors now not welcome in sport in the UK, in stepped another purveyor of addictive vice as online casino decided to fill the boots vacated by the lung cancer specialists. Again, following the same pattern as the 1980’s with Joe Johnson in 1986, 2006 saw another shock winner and a return to the final of the pocket dynamo Graeme Dott. It was a fairly uneventful tournament if truth be told and the final really summed up the general feeling of disappointment amongst snooker fans as to the way things went. Ronnie was beaten by Graeme in the semi finals denying us the chance to see him play Ebdon in what surely would have been another classic encounter. Dott definitely deserved his win, but will be remembered by most as the party pooper this year. Hendry lost first round to veteran Nigel Bond on a respotted black and looked a fading force, even Matthew Stevens didn’t turn up for this one, John Higgins lost first round for the first time (Correction – his long forgotten debut was a nightmare, thanks to Dave Hendon for reminding me) to the promising youngster Mark Selby, a match-up that would occur twelve months later in very different circumstances. The stand out match was arguably the 13-11 victory for O’Sullivan over Williams in the Quarter Finals before Dott surprised them all to lift the title, if Jimmy (another first round casualty here) was watching he must have been gutted. This year also saw the final appearance at the Crucible of the clearly unwell Hunter, who was defeated by Neil Robertson in Round One. I was there to witness this, it was a sad sight but his courage was unsurpassed.

As if to make up for the previous year the players served up a treat in 2007. To do the viewers a favour Ian McCulloch sent Dott home in round one and a renewal of the fierce rivalry between the games two top players O’Sullivan and Higgins came again in the Quarter Finals, Higgins once again getting the better of the Rocket by 13 frames to 9, this came after Ronnie claimed that he had been ‘stitched up’ by the governing body when drawn to play Ding Junhui in Round One (I wonder what he makes of this year’s draw?) , but his protests were unnecessary as he’d swept away the young Chinese sensation 10-2 before losing to John. Matthew Stevens lost a deciding frame again in the Quarter Finals against Murphy who ended up in a titanic struggle in the semi-final against the fast improving Selby, who put the ex-champ to bed 17-16 with a show of steely nerve beyond his experience and years. Higgins had also been pushed to the wire against fellow Scot Stephen Maguire in the semi-final and fell over the line 17-15. The final was also a treat for the fans, at one point Higgins had threatened to run away with it only for Selby to mount a comeback of sorts before John eventually won 18-13 to lift the title again, an amazing nine years after he had first won it. You wonder why it took him so long to win it again.

Then came the year of the two 147’s, first Ronnie, his third at the Crucible and then Ali Carter. Higgins lost in round two to Ryan Day who was then beaten by the incredible Hendry who continued and still continues to believe that the eighth title is in him. Ronnie put Hendry out of his misery in the semi finals before meeting fellow 147 man Ali in the final, which saw a rather disappointing climax to a good tournament and a one -sided victory and third title for the player of the decade O’Sullivan.

‘Oh, not again’

2009 saw another new sponsor filling the void left by the casino guys at the last minute. It also saw yet another 147, this time the grand master Hendry notching up yet another piece of snooker history, the tables had been criticised for having rather generous pockets it has to be said, but I’ll let you judge for yourself. John Higgins by now was establishing himself as very much the man to beat and cemented this reputation with tense final frame wins over Jamie Cope and Mark Selby, before more clinical wins over Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy to secure his third title and equal the tally of O’Sullivan. The two rightly start favourites this year to kick start a new decade of the baize. Unfortunately old habits die hard and Matthew Stevens lost 10-9 in the qualifiers this year, oh well, at least he got it over with early.

The decade closed with another slice of history when Neil Robertson became the first ever Australian World Champion, defeating the dogged Graeme Dott in a marathon final which was somewhat overshadowed by events off the table involving John Higgins and some dodgy dealings, for which Higgins was to receive a record fine and a lengthy ban the following season. It was a fairly depressing end to what was a great tournament which incredibly saw that man Steve Davis reach the Quarter Finals after knocking out the reigning champion Higgins in incredible fashion.

But Robertson’s win arguably signalled the dawn of a new era of players who will be looking to own the game for the next decade. I wonder, in ten years time will the winners of the Noughties be long forgotten, or remembered as the men who truly disproved the old adage that it’s a ‘young man’s game’? It remains to be seen but with the likes of Higgins, Williams and O’Sullivan still very much competing with younger players such as Robertson, Judd Trump, Ding Junhui and Mark Allen it will be interesting to watch the next era of snooker unfold….Tune in in 2020 for Part Four! (As if to prove that last bit is true, the first two champions of the 2010’s since writing this have been Higgins and O’Sullivan)

For a musical (well Ronan Keating, that’s not really music is it?) summary of the decade including a fitting tribute to Paul Hunter click here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the trips down memory lane.

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