Hendry v O’Sullivan: A Classic Rivalry

This Thursday sees two of the greatest players ever to have played the game meet in the Premier League as Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan face off in Carlisle. Click below for a reminder of some of the greatest matches between the two over the last 15 years…

In chronological order, these are what I consider to be the eleven (was supposed to be ten but I couldn’t limit Stephen’s victories to just five unfortunately), most notable clashes between the two during their professional careers.

1993 UK Championship Final: O’Sullivan 10-6 Hendry

At that time a two-times winner of the event, Stephen Hendry entered the 1993 UK Championship as a hot favourite for the event and looking to continue his stranglehold on snooker’s biggest prizes. Having comfortably defeated Martin Clark, James Wattana and John Parrott to reach yet another final, on paper it looked like business as usual for the Scot as only the world number 57 stood between him and the title.

Ronnie O’Sullivan was no ordinary world number 57 however, having achieved that ranking after just one extroadinary debut season when he won his first 38 matches as a professional to make himself known to the snooker world. Having defeated top players such as Ken Doherty, Steve Davis and Darren Morgan to earn a shot at Hendry, he wasn’t going to waste his opportunity and took a remarkable 10-6 win to secure his first ranking event title.

More than this though, it was the first of a number of spellbinding clashes between the two as a rivalry was born…

1995 World Championship Quarter-Final: Hendry 13-8 O’Sullivan

Having shared their next two meetings, the next big clash between the two came at the Crucible 18 months later when they met in the quarter-finals. By this time O’Sullivan was up into the top 10 and Hendry was at his peak, seeking world title number four and not intending to let anyone get in his way having already dismissed Stefan Mazrocis and Tony Drago with ease.

Early on it looked as though O’Sullivan would give him a much sterner test as he took the opening frame and kept Hendry level at the first mid-session interval. Hendry was only just warming up however and made breaks of 51, 62, 72 and 62 to move into a 6-3 lead. Though O’Sullivan hit back by taking the next two, this only served to really get Hendry motoring as a terrific series of breaks including runs of 97, 103, 86, 88, 84 and 133 proved to be too much, the Scot taking the last four frames of the match.

Needless to say Hendry kept up this heavy scoring in his next two matches as a 147 against Jimmy White in the semi-final and a further three centuries in the final against Nigel Bond saw the World title in his hands once again.

1997 Liverpool Victoria Charity Challenge: Hendry 9-8 O’Sullivan

Their second meeting in a big final was probably the most incredible to date as we saw one of the great comebacks halted in the most emphatic way possible.

At one stage the match looked like being over in no time as Stephen raced off into an 8-2 lead, but remarkably O’Sullivan kept on fighting and took the next six frames and surely must have been a big favourite going into the decider with that momentum behind him.

As it was, following a short safety exchange, Hendry stepped up and not only won the title, but did so with a sensational 147, the fourth of his career. Astonishing to this day.

1999 World Championship Semi-Final: Hendry 17-13 O’Sullivan

If the 1997 match was the most dramatic match between the two players up to this point, then their second Crucible clash was surely their highest quality match in the 1990’s and indeed probably ever.

After the disappointment of the past two years, Hendry had his eyes on that elusive seventh world title and started this match in typically ominous form with a magnificent break of 126 to immediately stamp his authority on O’Sullivan. Following this up with runs of 82 and 86, he was looking unstoppable, eventually finishing the session with a commanding 6-2 lead.

O’Sullivan was not going to give up however and responded in fine style to take the next four frames, making consecutive century breaks of 122 and 135 at one point as he brought himself level at 6-6.

As the shared the next two to take the score to 7-7, Hendry was due another good run and boy did he deliver, upping his game to take the next three frames, moving 10-7 ahead with a 104 in frame 17. Again though O’Sullivan would hit straight back with breaks of 81 and 84 to leave it all square at 10-10.

What followed then was arguably the most high quality four frames of snooker ever seen at the Crucible consecutively. Hendry looked to have broken O’Sullivan with century breaks of 101 and 108 to lead yet again at 12-10 but almost unbelievably the Essex Exocet hit straight back with 134 and 110 to level it before a 70 break put him into the lead for the first time at 13-12.

After this though it was one way traffic as finally O’Sullivan cracked and Hendry showed we he would go on to win his seventh world title and crown his status as the best player in the game. Breaks of 75, 78, 50 and then 86 to clinch the match just proved to be too much and the Scot won the match 17-13. But what a match it was! It is actually quite rare to see both players in a match at the very top of their games but this was one of those rare occasions as the century breaks just kept on coming.

Surely this was a one-off, particular at such a big occasion at the Crucible…or was it?

2001 Irish Masters Final: O’Sullivan 9-8 Hendry

Playing the best snooker of his career to date, O’Sullivan would go on to win the World Championship for the first time just two months later but first had the small matter of an Irish Masters final with Hendry to deal with.

While it isn’t one of their most high profile clashes, it is one of their most interesting as O’Sullivan started off in great form to take a surprise 4-0 lead. What followed however was a barrage of scoring from both players that to me demonstrates not only why they are the best two break builders the game has ever seen, but why today’s players have a lot to live up to. With an 87 and a 76 break from O’Sullivan in between, Hendry brought himself level at 6-6 with runs of 76, 76, 84, 82, 95 and 53 – just one visit snooker of the highest order.

O’Sullivan though responded with a 112 and having seen Hendry move remarkably into the lead at 8-7, showed his class with 83 and 43 to win the match and the title. Sensational stuff once again, but it admittedly pales into comparison when you consider the next match on my list…

2002 World Championship Semi-Final: Hendry 17-13 O’Sullivan

And to think that I said the 1999 match was a one-off, this time around in their second world semi-final it was even better as Hendry and O’Sullivan played out my favourite snooker match of all-time to a stunning standard.

Defending champion O’Sullivan came into the match as a fairly warm favourite having won the event the previous year and eased through to this stage looking in as good shape as ever. His opponent though was not just coming into good form, but was as determined and as focused as I have ever seen him following comments from O’Sullivan in the press about how he was going to send him home to his “sad little life” in Scotland. While their relationship is a good one these days, at the time the bad blood was there for all to see and the comments proved to be the worst thing that Ronnie could have said.

Despite that, it was O’Sullivan who set the tone early on with a 115 in the first frame and though it was 2-2 at the interval, Hendry wasn’t quite up to speed as O’Sullivan finished the session 5-3 up.

From then on though it was Stephen’s turn to shine as he began to play near-perfect snooker, hitting breaks of 125, 122, 81 and 59 to bring himself level at 6-6. There was little O’Sullivan could do at this point as Stephen was back to his irrepressible best, another 81 break moving him into the lead for the first time before consecutive century breaks of 124 and 113 saw him go 10-7 up.

Though O’Sullivan showed his own quality with visits of 87, 62 and 129 to reduce the gap to just one frame, another century from Hendry again demonstrated that both players were in absolutely top form as the Scot led 12-10. Ronnie took the next two to make it 12-12 but this was the last time he was level as an utterly possessed Hendry took the next four frames and eventually the match by a 17-13 scoreline again.

An incredible match, I would advise anyone with an interest in snooker to get hold of a copy if they can. Unfortunately for Hendry though it was to prove a bittersweet victory as he was running on empty for the final against Peter Ebdon, eventually losing out 18-17 in one of the great Crucible finals.

2003 British Open Final: Hendry 9-6 O’Sullivan

Coming into the 2003/4 season it looked like Hendry’s career might be under threat as the cue that he had used since he was a boy was damaged beyond repair by baggage handlers at the airport. In only his second match using a new one however he again played his part in what was an absolutely classic match against his old rival, eventually coming out on top 9-6.

O’Sullivan made the better start with runs of 62 and 61 to move 2-0 ahead but Hendry took a scrapy third frame before really getting going in the fourth with a break of 135 to level it up. When the two resumed, neither could have expected the next four frames to turn out as they did, a century coming on each frame to take the overall streak between the two to five!

Leading the match 5-3 at this point, O’Sullivan must have been full of confidence but it was Hendry who took command of the match as he took the next five frames with breaks of 61, 50, 135, 78 and 95 to move just one away from the title. Though O’Sullivan pulled one back, the gap was too big and Hendry wrapped it up in the next to take yet another ranking event title.

As far as finals go I can’t think of another one, certainly not in a best of 17 format with a standard quite as high as this. Definitely another DVD to go in the must have section.

2004 World Championship Semi-Final: O’Sullivan 17-4 Hendry

While the matches until this point have been exceptional for their close finishes of amazing quality, this one is notable for a different reason, the total domination of such a big match by one player as O’Sullivan destroyed Hendry on his way to his second world title.

Having shared the first two frames with a couple of big breaks, it looked as if we might be in for another classic but from then on there was only one player in it as O’Sullivan took the next five frames to move 6-1 up.

Resuming the next session at 6-2, Hendry never got going and O’Sullivan took full advantage with breaks of 81, 92, 52, 117, 58 and 63 on his way to a 13-3 lead. Hendry won another frame but could not stop it from being over with a session to spare as runs of 71, 93 and finally 79 secured a crushing victory. With Hendry now aged 35, it made you wonder whether we would see another classic final between the two…

2005 Welsh Open Final: O’Sullivan 9-8 Hendry

You can never write off a player who has achieved what Stephen has in the game though and the 2005 Welsh Open final was to see another classic final frame decider between the two.

In what was a topsy turvy match all along it was initially Hendry who looked to be in good shape, moving 3-1 ahead at the mid-session interval with breaks of 92, 67 and a magnificent 140 break in frame four.

O’Sullivan however hit straight back to take the next three to lead for the first time at 4-3 before Hendry rattled in breaks of 69 and 93 to reclaim the lead. The two continued to trade frames, O’Sullivan making a couple of century breaks as the match lurched inexorably to a decider. Once there it was O’Sullivan who took his chance, making a controlled break of 67 to take another title and end another throughly entertaining match between snooker’s leading players.

2006 UK Championship Quarter-Final: Hendry 9-1 O’Sullivan

Ok while this is not the greatest match between the two, it has to be the strangest as with Hendry leading 4-1 and with a great chance of taking the next frame following a poor shot from O’Sullivan, Ronnie shakes Stephen’s hand and walks out!

While O’Sullivan was clearly not in the right frame of mind, Hendry was playing well that day with breaks of 52, 72, 102 and 67 as he eventually went on to reach yet another ranking final before losing to Peter Ebdon.

2008 World Championship Semi-Final: O’Sullivan 17-6 Hendry

While back in 2004 Hendry was well below par as O’Sullivan steamrollered him with a session to spare, this time around there was was nothing he could so as his opponent produced some sensational snooker to record another dominant win.

Early on it looked like things were going to be different as Hendry opened with a lovely break of 140 as he went on to lead the match 4-1. Critically though, he missed his chance to really assert himself on the match and allowed O’Sullivan back into it, eventually finishing the day locked at 4-4.

From here though Hendry didn’t have a chance. O’Sullivan took the next 12 frames with breaks including 102, 93, 87, 133, 135 and 126 as Hendry could only look on and watch. Though he made a fight of it by taking another couple of frames to make it 13-6, it was O’Sullivan’s day as he took the next four with ease and completed an astonishing display of snooker en route to his third world title.

The future?

With Stephen now approaching his 40th birthday and struggling to produce his best snooker on a consistent basis, the chances of there being another classic final between the two appear to be fairly slim unfortunately. Still though, in a shorter format as this week’s Premier League clash is, Stephen is still more than capable of delivering against anyone and hopefully we will see yet another thoroughly entertaining match between the two…