While enjoying an emotional rollercoaster courtesy of Andy Murray last night, I found my mind drifting back to snooker’s only flirtation with a Wimbledon-style event.
The year was 1991. In America, a president named Bush was at war with Iraq. In Britain, a dour new prime minister was struggling to establish himself after taking over from a far more charismatic predecessor.
How times have changed.
In January of that year, Barry Hearn launched his ambitious World Masters at the NEC in Birmingham. Like Wimbledon, it included men’s and women’s singles and doubles, mixed doubles and a juniors event.
I attended the first day although was not yet writing about snooker. This was chiefly because I was still at school.
The tournament began in controversial circumstances when Hearn invited Alex Higgins to compete even though the WPBSA had banned him for a season.
World champion Stephen Hendry, aghast at Higgins’s inclusion, threatened to pull out. This story was the back page lead in the Daily Mail – simply unthinkable today.
Hearn, perhaps not unhappy with the publicity, backed down and Hendry took his place in Birmingham.
Much thought had gone into innovation, with players wearing colourful waistcoats and players invited from all corners of the globe.
The first match was something of a mismatch pitting as it did Steve Davis – still one of the very best players in the world – against Fred Davis, who at the time was 76 years of age.
Davis won 6-0. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you which one.
The tournament had begun with an Olympic-esque opening ceremony featuring pretty women parading round the arena with the names of the countries represented, which included such snooker outposts as Brazil (Rui Chapeu, who played wearing a white cap) and Panama (Juan Castenda, who had never played the game before but still managed to make a 50 break).
This was the first event to be broadcast with any real ambition outside of the standard TV coverage up to that point. Sky had cameras on two tables and a roving camera to get to anything exciting on the outside tables.
Unfortunately, they were late to James Wattana’s 147, did not record a ball and so simply didn’t mention it.
Wattana was somewhat disappointed there had been no jackpot prize. “I was thinking of a big money,” said the Thai.
The main distinguishing feature of the World Masters was its tennis-style tie break. Matches were first to six but players had to win by two clear frames. If they reached 6-6 then one red and the colours were placed on the table and the winner of this mini-frame declared the winner.
A nice idea but it didn’t work. The one dramatic point in any match is a deciding frame – a full frame.
Jimmy White beat Tony Drago 10-5 to win the men’s title and pocketed a cheque for £200,000.
To put this into context, Graeme Dott would receive the same amount for winning the World Championship 15 years later.
Hendry and Mike Hallett won the men’s doubles, Karen Corr the women’s singles, Allison Fisher and Stacey Hillyard the women’s doubles and Davis and Fisher the mixed doubles.
All the hype before the junior event had been centred on Ronnie O’Sullivan, but he was beaten by the eventual winner, John Higgins, who beat Mark Williams in the final.
Quinten Hann, at 13, became the youngest player to compile a televised century.
It was a great event but very costly, too, and was never staged again.
This was a shame. There need to be different types of tournament to keep interest up.
For instance doubles, though not my personal cup of tea because of its stop-start nature, is very popular with audiences.
Who would play with who today? I’d suggest Higgins and Maguire, Hendry and Williams, Murphy and Selby while right-handed Ronnie could partner left-handed Ronnie.
In all seriousness, in the digital TV age there is no reason – apart from finances – why a World Masters-style tournament could not be attempted again.
It could be frame, set and match to snooker.