We are now in this part of the year when there is usually no professional snooker played, as the Q-school is about to start…
Only that we are still in lockdown, the last events of the 2019/20 season weren’t played when scheduled and it’s unclear whether they will be played at all. It’s also unclear if – should the 2020 World Championship be canceled – when snooker eventually comes back, it will be the start of a new season, or if this season will be extended up to the 2021 World Championship.
What seems to be certain is that we have weeks ahead of us with no professional snooker to be played. Typically, in such times, we reflect on past events and engage in debates…
This year marks the 30th anniversary since snooker’s most prolific World Champion, Stephen Hendry, notched up the first of his seven Crucible crowns.
Scotland’s Hendry became the youngest ever winner of the World Championship, aged 21 years and 106 days, in 1990. He went on to make further history by the end of the decade, beating six-time World Champion Steve Davis’ tally of Crucible titles, by securing his seventh in 1999.
We’ve caught up with 36-time ranking event winner Hendry to look back on his 1990 victory, which acted as a catalyst for an unparalleled monopoly of snooker’s biggest tournament.
Stephen, first of all what were your emotions like heading into what was your first Crucible final in 1990?
“I basically couldn’t wait to get started. I’d beaten John Parrott in the semis and that meant I’d become world number one already. I was full of confidence going into the final. I’d played Jimmy so many times, I knew our games suited each other. We both liked to go for shots and take risks. We both knew we were going to get chances. I couldn’t wait for the final to start, I didn’t even think there was any chance I was going to lose at all. I was just so confident.”
Do you think that your record as youngest ever World Champion is likely to be broken in the future?
“It is an interesting question, I’ve been asked that a couple of times. People ask what is more likely to be beaten, seven world titles or being the youngest at 21. Probably looking at it, they are both going to be very difficult, but I don’t see anyone coming through at the moment. You would probably have to look at the young Chinese players to see anyone with potential. The game is so competitive coming up through the rankings. To get to the stage of winning the World Championship at 21 is getting more difficult.”
Did you allow yourself time to celebrate after that first victory or did you turn your attentions to amassing more titles straight away?
“I think my manager and I had a plan between us. It was us against the world when I turned professional. Steve Davis and Barry Hearn pretty much had a monopoly on the game. Steve dominated the game throughout the 80s. Our plan was to take over that dominance. I knew personally that winning the 1990 World Championship was only the start.
“The target before winning the first one was to make history in the game. If someone had said after that first one, you would win another six I would say I fancied my chances, but I wouldn’t believe it 100%. Steve always set the targets in my career that I tried to either emulate or overcome.”
How disappointing was it that you never faced Steve Davis in a World Championship final?
“We were battling for a good few years over the world number one spot. It would have been great. I think to not play either Steve Davis or Ronnie O’Sullivan in a Crucible final is a little regret. I watched back the semi-final with Ronnie in 2002 the other day. It was just a fantastic match. We were both playing aggressive snooker and making centuries. It was like a boxing match, punch for punch. That was the way I liked to play snooker and it would have been great to play a final like that. I probably never played as well as that again at the Crucible even though it was 2002. You look back on these matches after retiring. I found that when I was doing my book it is easy to forget things, good and bad, and only remember them looking back afterwards.”
Did your World Championship final win over Mark Williams in 1999 feel different to the others given that it was your seventh title?
“Without a doubt. I tried to go through the whole tournament and concentrate match by match. But it was always in the back of my mind. Every press conference that was what people were asking about, so you could never forget about it as hard as you tried.
“It was relief and a monkey off the back. When I got to four, five and six the next step was to break the record. I’d gone two or three years without winning it. You don’t want it to go on for too much longer or you start trying too hard. It was an amazing World Championship win, because the season before it I’d played terribly. I lost 9-0 to Marcus Campbell, I lost three times to Tony Drago. No disrespect to him but I hadn’t lost to him in my whole career. So after that season, to come back and win was even more special.”
Peter Ebdon announced his retirement recently. He is a player you faced in two Crucible finals. What are your memories of him as a competitor?
“He was a strange player because you could go five or six nil up and he would all of a sudden play his best snooker. He was a phenomenal competitor. When he first burst onto the scene there was no doubt he rubbed people up the wrong way, including me, because he was different, he was a breath of fresh air. We had a great rivalry, which I enjoyed for five or six years. We played a lot of semi-finals and big matches. His shot selection was a bit unique and a bit unorthodox. He was a fantastic snooker player, you don’t get to three world finals and win one without being that. The last few years his game hasn’t been what it was and he has got a bit bogged down maybe because of the injury, but people forget how good he was.”
Tomorrow Stephen will be back on Instagram, this time grilling his good friend mark Williams. That should be fun!
Regarding debates …
Two lists were published on twitte today by Phill Mudd:
That very much summarises it…
Keep in mind that Ronnie, John Higgins, and Mark Williams have been in competition with each other since the 1992/93 season and that from the late 90th until 2010/11 when Barry Hearn took over, they had not that much to play in; the 2007/08 season, for instance, featured only six ranking events, the Masters and the Premier League snooker. That was when they were supposed to be in their prime. You can only win events if events are actually available to play in.
Neither dominated snooker like Davis and Hendry did, but then Davis and Hendry both had a spell of several years in their career when they had little opposition coming from players in their age group. Judd Trump is in that position at this moment in time too. Of course, he still has to beat great players, but if you look at who he did meet in finals over the last two seasons, they are guys who are either in their late 30th (Selby, Murphy, Neil Robertson) or well into their 40th (Ronnie, John Higgins, Mark Williams). A lot of pundits predict that, in the coming years, he will achieve the kind of dominance Davis and Hendry enjoyed. Time will tell and it will be interesting to watch it unfold… or not.
Meanwhile, the stats above show why Ronnie is – for the time being – the best/greatest player ever in modern snooker history.