Before I go on reporting on the first day of what should have been the World Championship but isn’t…
Χριστος Ανεστη! Happy Easter!
To all my friends who celebrate Orthodox Easter today. Stay safe, stay home. The good days will come back and here is hope that we will all be healthy and able to celebrate life then!
Both the BBC and Eurosport are doing their best to provide some snooker to us, deprived fans.
Eurosport experts, Neil Foulds and Jimmy White, along with Andy Goldstein, had a discussion about the greatest “Triple Crown” matches.
SNOOKER THE DEBATE: GREATEST TRIPLE CROWN MATCHES FEATURING JIMMY WHITE AND NEAL FOULDS
Apr 18, 2020
To coincide with the period that the World Snooker Championship was set to take place, Eurosport will produce a series of snooker vodcasts guest starring some of the greatest names in the sport.
The first episode goes live today with Eurosport snooker experts Jimmy White and Neal Foulds analysing some of the best-ever Triple Crown matches.
Alex Higgins 16-15 Steve Davis – 1983 UK Champs Final
It’s not easy is it. You play someone like Steve Davis and he hammers you (in 1982 final) and it can leave a scar. Especially when there’s an argument that Steve was a better player in ‘83 than he was previously. So, that was a great performance. We talk about the ‘85 World Final where Dennis Taylor was 8-0 down, Alex was 7-0 down in this match and looks that at that point that he’s going to get a hiding. One thing about Steve Davis, he wasn’t the sort of guy to take his foot off the break and say “Ok, I’m so far in front I’m going to win anyway”. He would have wanted to win every frame in that match. But Alex Higgins was inspired and that was a word that I think that’s a word that would describe his whole career, inspired. The crowd got behind him, things changed, and what becomes a game of playing on the table becomes something in the mind and he got to Davis. At the time, very few people had ever done that before.
He (Higgins) was an incredible ‘shotmaker’ but just reiterating what Neal said he was 7-0 down to Davis. It looked like it was going to be a good hiding again, the previous time he beat him 16-6 as Neal said. But when he was 7-0 down, Davis had played OK, but Higgins had made a lot of mistakes. I remember, I was there watching it. Then he went in the second session, he stole a few games on the colours, safety play-wise, which Davis is a master at – like Mark Selby is today. He’d win most games that were scrappy, and Higgins won quite a few of the scrappy frames in the second session and it knocked Davis off his normal game. He was always in the same sort of focus, he never looked flustered Davis. But for some reason he did, he got wound up, he lost his stride and Higgins went on to crawl over the line. An amazing victory over Davis who was the best in the world at the time.
Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-6 Mark Allen – 2008 UK Champs Final
I’d forgotten about that (Ronnie pouring water on head). It was a strange thing to do at the end of the match, but Ronnie’s done some odd things at the end of matches. I remember when he lost in the World Championship to Graeme Dott and he just gave a kid who was sitting in the audience his cue and case – who does that? I’ve seen people give away medals every now and then… But on this occasion, he won, he must have been overheating, I guess! It was a tough game. I always thought he was going to win it, and Mark Allen played a big part in that match. But I suppose we mustn’t underestimate the fact that O’Sullivan has been around so long, with it not just another triple crown event, one that’ll take him past all records, but maybe as he’s got older it’s harder and harder to perform like that. And that was a terrific win because Mark Allen plays like a man possessed at times. He’s such a terrific player and through that tournament he played very well. O’Sullivan was too good for him; it was more relief at the end of that match than anything else than anything else for him.
It was amazing to watch him show his true emotion. All the hard work, all the years and years of trying to be the best and that was a win to take him in front on triple crown wins. The way he celebrated, he jumped on the side barrier and I thought he would have gone and kicked on from there actually. I thought that was the one that said “right, I’m in front now. I’m going to try and make it ten of each and then maybe hang my cue up.” But he hasn’t produced since that final and hopefully he’ll look back on that very soon and get his cue out and start practicing – and start playing a few more tournaments!
Paul Hunter 10-9 Ronnie O’Sullivan – 2004 Masters Final
It’s hard to talk about Paul Hunter without getting a bit emotional because who knows how far he could have gone with his game. He won three Masters and he won them all from behind. He was one of these guys who wasn’t a very good frontrunner strangely. I looked at all those Masters wins and almost every match went to the last frame. Even an easy win would be a 6-3 or 6-4 to get him to the final. Against Ronnie he was 7-2 down; who beats Ronnie from 7-2 down? Especially at the conference centre. But you can also look at other stats in that match, there’s a very revealing one there. Paul Hunter made five centuries in that final, Ronnie didn’t make any. So that tells you this guy was not somebody from yesteryear, people speak about how much the game has moved on. Paul Hunter was a great player, a great scorer and who knows if he’s have been World Champion, I think he’d would have been had he still been alive now.
The thing I remember about that final is that they both had headbands on! It was all about Paul Hunter being the new David Beckham of snooker. As you said in his previous two matches, he was well behind in those two matches and for him to win a third one 10-9 from being 7-2 behind with Ronnie O;Sullivan was an unbelievable feat. As Neal said, we do really miss Paul Hunter and who knows how many tournaments he would have won.
Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-7 Joe Perry – 2017 Masters Final
Ronnie was a huge favourite to beat Joe Perry, no one really thought Joe Perry would win. If you talk about the class of ‘92 he turned professional that year as well. He’s not quite gone on to the same things but he’s still a leading player, he’s in the topflight now. Ronnie struggled early on in that match, it was 4-1, Joe Perry had played well but in the back of your mind you always felt that Joe would find it hard to get that match won and Ronnie came back in the afternoon session and when you got into the evening session you kind of knew which way it was going. Typically, the London crowd got behind him at the Ally Pally – it’s quite something for crowd involvement. That’s one of the reasons, apart from what a great player he is, that Ronnie has been so successful there. But the longer that match went on, the less likely the shock seemed. I think to win all those Masters is quite an incredible achievement by Ronnie O’Sullivan. I still don’t know why he didn’t play in it this year but it’s not a question for me to answer. It’s a shame because he kind of made that venue his own and that tournament his own really.
Joe’s in the top-16 now so he’s playing some great stuff. To get to that final he was 4-1 up there and Ronnie O’Sullivan, we were in the studio, he was really struggling, and Joe should have taken advantage and really pressed on there but maybe he saw the winning line. O’Sullivan to go and win seven Masters at this standard is just a phenomenal feat – it goes down as one of the greatest matches of all time.
Judd Trump 10-4 Ronnie O’Sullivan – 2019 Masters Final
I think that was a real indication that Trump has moved on with his game because he was a brilliant player aged 12, he was 14 winning big pro-Am’s, so he should have turned professional then but it took him years to get through. Then he got to his World Final, he won his UK Championships in 2011. But then he was almost there to be shot at after some bad performances in big events. But that first session, I don’t think anyone has played better. He took him apart and that’s almost a glimpse into the future and where we are now with Trump. We know how great of a player he is now.
That was a stepping-stone (For Trump). Prior to that, a couple of years ago he beat Ronnie 10-9 in Romania in a ranking tournament. But the way he played in that first session was a bit like the way he played in the first session against John Higgins in the World Championships. He was just phenomenal and to take Ronnie O’Sullivan apart 7-1 like that… Ronnie didn’t really play badly; he just didn’t have a chance. Every long ball Judd went for he knocked in and made a significant break. That’s spring boarded him into the player he is today, that actual match gave him the confidence.
Alex Higgins 18-15 Ray Reardon – 1982 World Championship Final
What we remember most of all were the celebrations afterwards, the way he brought his daughter out. But he actually finished off with a really big break, 135 I think. It hadn’t always been a classic and it’s safe to say Ray Reardon took it very well because I don’t honestly think him and Alex had a lot in common. I don’t think they were great pals, but Ray Reardon took that defeat pretty much on the chin and it’s one of the great moments in sport.
He (Higgins) was the favourite going into that match. Even though Reardon got to the final he’d not played great stuff and there was a lot on my match (semi-final) with Higgins. The way he won that match… that clearance he did was phenomenal. He potted about five or six balls where he was a 5 to 1 shot to pot them.
Dennis Taylor 18-17 Steve Davis – 1985 World Championship Final
If you look back on that last frame you might have thought the whole match was poor but actually… It was a terrible frame of snooker if you like. It was brilliant to watch, the drama was incredible, everyone was on the edge of their seats watching it. The standard wasn’t very good, I don’t actually think there was a century in that final. It was certainly one of the matches where there wasn’t any breaks and Steve cracked a little bit at the end. That black that he overcut to win it was not an easy shot, but he missed it by so far. It just had everyone on the edge of their seats. It’ amazing to think that Dennis won the World title that year, going into the World Championship he was clearly playing very well, he’d won his first major event the year before. But really it shows you what the game is.
As Neal said, Davis cracked but he (Taylor) also cracked because a couple of times he just hit the black at 100mph, he wouldn’t care who was watching, he was just hoping it went in somewhere. But I was delighted for Dennis Taylor, I remember where I was. It went on quite late, I think it was 1 O’clock in the morning but it was fantastic for the game to see Dennis Taylor win, we had 18.5 million viewers. Davis recovered very quickly; he talks about that now. He does a lot of tours with Dennis Taylor talking about that match and whether Davis is lying or not I don’t know but he seems to be OK with it.
Judd Trump 18-9 John Higgins – 2019 World Championship Final
It was quite incredible. Going back to that Masters where he beat O’Sullivan 10-4 and going 7-1 up that was the same sort of snooker he did against John Higgins and it didn’t matter what John Higgins threw on him and I think he had four centuries in that final John Higgins so he wasn’t playing bad stuff. He was just phenomenal Trump. Any chance of a long ball and when he was playing safe, he had John Higgins tight on the cushion and there’s just not a lot you can do. When players of that standard produce that kind of form they’re more or less impossible to beat and we saw two sessions of snooker there that we’ll probably never see again.
I think when a player wins the World Championship for the first time you go one of two ways. When Joe Johnson won, he did get to the final the next year, but he had a pretty miserable season throughout until that final. First time champions don’t always play the same. But in Judd’s case, the way he’s gone on in the season, which is just coming to an end, to play the way he has, he’s won six ranking events. He just wants to be a winner. He realises all the hard work that goes in means that he can do it again. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t win it again on more than one occasion. Three or four times minimum.
Favourite World Championship Match
It was a great delight to watch Higgins win the world title in ‘82. As for snooker-wise I think Trump winning this year, to see Trump go from this player that frustrated Neal quite a lot, more than me really, because he was such a great player at not producing to all of a sudden connecting all the dots, realised that he can practise. He’s got to be favourite for the World Championship this year. So, I’d have to say Judd’s final with John Higgins is the best snooker I’ve seen.
I think the close finals. Obviously, there’s been finals that have gone down to the last frame. Jimmy has been involved in one of those, we know the ‘85 final. But the other one, that never really gets a mention, is the Peter Ebdon year – 2002 – he beat Stephen Hendry 18-17 so that’s another match that was a bit of a nail biter. Ebdon was probably one of those guys if you could pick someone to clear the colours to save your life he’s be on that list. The pressure didn’t get to him so it’s a bit of a forgotten final, but it was a classic and it was Peter Ebdon’s only title, so I’d throw that one in as well.
There are a few picks in there that surprised me – notably the 2017 Masters final – as does the fact the none of the selected matches feature Stephen Hendry. But it was an interesting discussion.
BBC reran a documentary they did more than 10 years ago (it was 2008 or 2009) about the “People’s Champions”, Alex Higgins, Jimmy White, and Ronnie who had only recently won his third World Title.
This triggered some great memories. There is one part of that Ronnie interview with Gaby Logan that is missing from the documentary and was particularly hilarious. Ronnie was trying to explain to a rather amused Gaby why and when he was choosing to play left-handed or right-handed: “My right hand is my wife, my left hand is my mistress… ”
BBC also showed an extended summary (if that makes sense) of the Tony Knowles v Steve Davis first-round match at the Crucible in 1982: Tony beat the defending champion by 10-1. It’s a match that I had never seen before and, once again, I couldn’t help to notice how poor the standard was as compared to what we see nowadays, but of course, the conditions were different as well. Davis completely cracked under pressure in that match. He was terrible. Tony had only two breaks over 50 but still completely outplayed him.
On social media, WST “aired” the first match of the “Virtual World Championship”, with “Judd Trump” beating “Yan Bingtao” by 2-1. I must confess that I’m not interested in the least.
They also showed the first episode of the “Crucible Gold” series, about Ronnie’s Crucible 147s. It was interesting because you can see an evolution in Ronnie’s approach, from sheer potting prowess to carefully constructed development of the balls. The shot he took to develop the red/pink mini-cluster in the 2008 maximum remains one of the best positional shot I have seen from anyone.
And finally, Ronnie sent this short message to Captain Tom Moore
I was happy to see Ronnie looking better, both physically and mentally than he appeared to be when he recorded that video about the coronavirus outbreak and how China handled it.