The first major tournament of 2011 will be the Masters from Wembley as the top 16 players in the world battle it out for the trophy you can see above. Click below for a look back at some of my highlights of the event down the years and feel free to share your own in the comments section below…
I must admit that of the major snooker tournaments on the calendar, for me personally the Masters has never been my favourite, particularly in the years following the exit of Benson & Hedges as tournament sponsor when I felt that the tournament lost a bit of its character.
That is not to say however that it has not provided us all with some memorable moments over the years. Indeed right from the start of the tournament back in 1975 there were some thrilling matches, including the first final between the late John Spencer and Ray Reardon which was eventually won on a re-spotted black by Spencer.
There was also of course that famous 147 break made by Canada’s Kirk Stevens in 1984, the only maximum in the tournament until Ding Junhui repeated the feat in 2007 against Anthony Hamilton.
Strangely, there were six different winners of the tournament in its first six years and although Cliff Thorburn did win the tournament three times in the 1980′s, the tournament remained relatively open until the end of that decade. The dominant player of the era was of course Steve Davis but he could only win this title on two occasions during this period. Without doubt though his greatest achievement in this tournament came some years past his peak in 1997 when he won six consecutive frames to defeat Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-8 to win it for a third time.
The tournament’s most successful player has unsurprisingly been Scotland’s Stephen Hendry who from his début in 1989, managed to win the tournament on five consecutive occasions before eventually losing out to compatriot Alan McManus in 1994 in a deciding frame. Of Stephen’s eventual six victories, three came against the luckless John Parrott but the most memorable was his 1991 clash against Mike Hallett in which he remarkably came back from 8-2 down to win 9-8.
For me as something of a childhood Hendry fan however, the most memorable moment of all from the Masters tournament will always be from the 1998 final against Mark Williams in which he led 9-6 before eventually losing the deciding frame on a re-spotted black in possibly the most dramatic conclusion to a major final that I have ever seen. Of all the thousands of shots played that I have seen in my life so far, the missed black to the left-centre from Hendry probably sticks in my mind the most!
Another missed black from the Masters that will be remembered for years to come is that of Ken Doherty during the 2000 final against when he unthinkably missed it from its spot when clearing for a 147 break. Matthew would go on to take a 10-8 victory and win his sole Wembley title.
One match that does stick in my mind from this period was not a final, nor was it one between two of the top players of that season. Instead it was a quarter-final clash between John Parrott and Dave Harold which saw the Stoke Potter fight back from 5-1 down to level at 5-5 before forcing a re-spotted black as the scores were tied at 56-56. Eventually it was Dave who took a famous victory, one that signalled the end of John’s time as a top flight player as he slipped out of the top 16 at the end of the season.
As Stephen Hendry’s form declined towards the end of the 1990′s, 2001 saw another man emerge as the man to beat at Wembley as the late Paul Hunter won the title three times in four years. Remarkably however, he did so on each occasion following a deciding frame having recovered a significant deficit which would have been impressive once, let alone three times.
Paul’s first triumph came against Irishman Fergal O’Brien in what was for me personally was another match that I remember very well. Trailing 6-2 after the first session, Paul looked to be dead and buried but then produced some incredible snooker with four centuries in the final six frames as he bounced back to clinch his first title 10-9. The following year he managed to repeat the feat against Mark Williams, this time from 5-0 down before remarkably fighting back from 7-2 down to defeat Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2004 to complete his hat-trick of titles.
That final victory against O’Sullivan was arguably the most thrilling of the lot as they traded century breaks before the world champion could only sit and bite off the tip of his cue as Paul took the title.
The last match to take place at the iconic Wembley Conference Centre was the 2006 final and what a classic that proved to be as John Higgins took his second title on the final black of the final frame. Having seen Ronnie amass what looked like being a frame-winning break, Higgins hit back with one of the finest clearances you will see anywhere, containing a double and an opening red that looked for all the world like it would not drop.
John though has not been able to continue that success at the tournament’s new home, the Wembley Arena. Instead, it has been down to Mark Selby to provide the opposition to crowd favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan, winning the tournament twice in the past three years. Last year’s final of course will not be forgotten in a hurry, Mark coming back from 9-6 down to defeat the world number one 10-9.