Name: Stephen Lee
DOB: 12th October 1974
Turned Pro: 1992
Highest Ranking: #5 (2000/1, 2003/4)
Highest Break: 145 (2008 Northern Ireland Trophy)
Career Highlights: 1998 & 2001 Grand Prix champion, 2002 Scottish Open champion, 2006 Welsh Open champion, 2012 PTC Grand Finals champion, 2008 Masters finalist, 2003 World Championship semi-finalist, 2012 Haikou World Open finalist, 2012 APTC2 winner
As a British U16 and U18 Champion at amateur level, Lee joined the main tour at the start of the 1992/3 season and did not take long to settle in the pro ranks. In fact on the way to making the quarter-finals in the European Open as well as two other last 16 places, Stephen won a staggering 33 successive frames during qualifying matches, an all-time record that is unlikely ever to be beaten.
Following a similar second season in 1993/4, Stephen was up to a hugely impressive 40th position in the world rankings, giving himself a strong platform to build on for the following year. Although he did not make a big leap then, he did at least manage to qualify for the World Championship for the first time, losing to eventual finalist Nigel Bond in the first round.
Stephen in action during the 2009 China Open
The next two seasons again witnessed a steady improvement in results as he moved firstly into the top 32 before breaking into the elite top 16 for the first time in 1997 following his first win at the Crucible.
During 1997/8 he consistently won matches, reaching his first ranking event semi-final at the UK Championship before losing out to Ronnie O’Sullivan. He repeated this achievement at the Scottish Open, again losing to O’Sullivan, but he had at least done enough to move into the top ten for the first time at number nine.
Grand Prix Champion
The next step for Lee was to reach a final and this was soon to come at the 1998 Grand Prix. Here he came up against rookie Marco Fu who was having an inspired week of his own, but it was Lee who was to prevail 9-2 to win his first ranking event crown. Another four quarter-finals, including one at the 1999 World Championship crowned his best season to date as he moved up to sixth in the rankings.
1999/2000 saw Stephen again reach the latter stages of several events including two finals though he was to win neither. Other solid results pushed him up to a career high ranking of number five, though this was to be short-lived as his next season was to be slightly less successful.
Stephen downs Peter Ebdon on his way to the 2010 Masters final
The 2001/2 season proved to be the best of Lee’s career however as he won the Grand Prix for the second time. In the final of the tournament, rebranded as the LG Cup, he met old rival Peter Ebdon and recorded a convincing 9-4 victory. He followed this up with his third ranking crown at the Scottish Open and actually ended the season at the head of the one year ranking list.
The following season was to see no further titles come his way, but he did reach the semi-finals of the World Championship, beating Steve Davis, Jimmy White and Marco Fu before losing to eventual winner Mark Williams. This run, his best at the event to date, was at least enough to move him back up to 5th in the world.
Following this however, Stephen’s results began to worsen to the extent that he entered the final few events of the 2005/6 season provisionally ranked outside of the top 16. He did however manage to win a surprise fourth ranking event title at the 2006 Welsh Open with victory against reigning world champion Shaun Murphy in the final.
This was only to be a temporary reprieve however as otherwise he continued to struggle, culminating in him losing his top 16 place at the end of the 2007/8 season, although he did reach the final of the invitational Masters event in 2008.
Stephen at the 2010 Shanghai Masters
Back in the qualifiers, 2008/9 was to be an inconsistent season for Stephen as at times he played well, notably reaching the quarter-finals of the UK Championship, but he also succumbed to three first round defeats.
The highlight of his season was probably his final qualifying round match against Judd Trump at the World Championship as he recovered from 6-2 down to complete a brilliant 10-8 victory with arguably the finest clearance that I have ever seen at a live snooker match. Every shot seemed to be getting away from him but he kept potting them in and secured a memorable win.
Typical of his season however, once at the Crucible he went down tamely to Welshman Ryan Day in the next round and finished the season up one place in 25th.
Stephen continued to struggle for consistency during the early stages of the 2009/10 season as he lost his opening match of the Grand Prix qualifiers before going as far as the last 16 at the UK Championship in Telford.
Stephen during the 2010 World Championship qualifiers
Qualifying defeats came again at the Welsh and China Open tournaments before he was at least able to qualify for the season-ending World Championship with a comprehensive 10-2 victory over Redcar professional Mike Dunn at the last 48 stage. At the Crucible however he would be paired with world number two Stephen Maguire and despite showing some flashes of his best form, he could not sustain it and eventually went down 10-4.
Following a mixed previous season, Stephen made a strong start to 2010/11, his consistency demonstrated by the fact that he won at least one match at the majority of the season’s early ranking event tournaments, including victories at both the Shanghai Masters and World Open tournaments.
His strongest result however came at the EPTC4 event in Gloucester (ironic given his split from the backers of the Southwest Snooker Academy, On-Q Promotions not long previously), where he defeated the likes of Mark Davis and finally Stephen Maguire in the final to take the title. The achievement was all the more impressive considering the fact that he trailed Andrew Norman 3-0 during his last 16 match before coming back to win 4-3.
Stephen in action at the 2011 World Championship qualifiers
Stephen managed to take this momentum from the PTC events into the full ranking season as he qualified for all of the venues except the Welsh Open where he lost out 4-1 to Rory McLeod. He was however to prove unfortunate with his draws, for example drawing eventual winner John Higgins at the last 32 stage of both the UK and World Championship tournaments.
His best results were to be two quarter-finals, the first of which came during the inaugural PTC Grand Finals where only a tremendous comeback from Shaun Murphy denied him a place in the semi-finals. The second was to come soon after in China where he produced a sensational clearance to defeat provisional world number one Mark Williams despite the Welshman making a century break in each of the frames that he had won!
Though he was eventually defeated by Ding Junhui at the quarter-final stage, he had done enough to move up to 18th place in the rankings at the end of the season and leave himself on the cusp of a return to the top 16.
Following an early exit from the Australian Goldfields Open at the hands of Barry Pinches, Stephen soon found his form in the PTCs with runs to the quarter-finals of events three and four, before he went one better at PTC6 with a last four appearance which would ultimately secure his return to the world’s top 16 at the first seedings revision.
Two further last 16 runs would follow in subsequent PTCs, as well as a second semi-final at PTC10, although an early exit at the UK Championship to Ricky Walden would prevent him from climbing further up the rankings.
Stephen was to begin 2012 with a bang, a semi-final run at the German Masters in Berlin, before he was denied a repeat at the Welsh Open by a badly-timed mobile phone when in with a chance to clear against Ding Junhui in the quarter-finals.
He was to maintain his form at the Haikou World Open, wins against former world champions Neil Robertson and Graeme Dott helping him to his first full ranking event title in six years before he lost 10-1 to Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen.
Following such a heavy defeat many wondered how he would react, but he immediately answered the question by taking victory in the following tournament, the PTC Grand Finals in Galway with a 4-0 victory against Neil Robertson in the final.
A semi-final run at the China Open was to follow, which saw him head into the season-ending World Championship as arguably the form player on the circuit. Surprisingly however, Stephen’s barren run at the Crucible was to continue, a 10-6 defeat to Andrew Higginson seeing him fall at the first fence.
Stephen was to carry his impressive form into the 2012/13 season by reaching the final of the APTC1 event, before then going on to reach the last eight of both the Australian Goldfields Open, as well as the UKPTC3 event in Gloucester.
His first silverware of the campaign would arrive at the APTC2 event, as he whitewashed Ding Junhui to take home the trophy.
However, his season would soon be brought to a premature halt, following the decision of the WPBSA to suspend him, pending an investigation into suspicious betting patterns reported during a 4-2 defeat to Scotland’s John Higgins in the Premier League.
At the time of writing, the investigations remain ongoing.
Ranking Event wins (5)
|Grand Prix/LG Cup||1998, 2001|
|PTC Grand Finals||2012|
Minor Ranking Event wins (1)