When Steve Davis, who reigned for a decade, met Stephen Hendry, the boy who would be king, for the 1990 UK Championship crown it was clear that this was no ordinary final.
The two players entered Preston’s Guild Hall arena to the strains of Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best.’ At two decades remove few could argue it was an apposite choice.
It was an engrossing match, perhaps the best ever UK final, and Davis got his nose in front at 15-14 before Hendry demonstrated why he became what he became.
Clearing up with 57, Hendry potted a great all-or-nothing blue with the rest under pressure and went on to take the decider with a break of 98.
It was not only the fact that he potted the blue, it was his self belief, his unshrinking desire to take it on, regardless of the consequences of missing.
John Parrott reached the top perched between two eras, as Davis began to fade and Hendry took over. Parrott possessed great nerve and a competitive spirit which helped him become world champion in 1991, and he emulated Davis and Hendry by winning the UK title in the same calendar year as his Crucible triumph.
Parrott beat Jimmy White 16-13 in the final. It was the latest defeat for White in a major final but he would have his moment in the sun in 1992 when he turned the tables on Parrott, beating him 16-9.
On the trophy, it reads: ‘1992 – Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White’, an exception for the most popular player in the game.
In 1993, the decision was taken to reduce the final from two days to one, from 31 frames to just 19.
But this in no ways undermines the extraordinary achievement of Ronnie O’Sullivan in winning the title at the age of just 17.
O’Sullivan had been groomed for stardom from a young age and given every advantage in his quest for glory, but snooker is an individual game out in the arena – you against the other guy – and in this case the other guy was Hendry.
Displaying maturity beyond his years, O’Sullivan took the game to the world champion and beat him 10-6. Amid all the many, many words written about him, he isn’t lauded enough for this.
The 1994 UK Championship final produced a break building record that still stands to this day as Hendry compiled seven centuries, although his margin of victory over Ken Doherty was 10-5.
This was Hendry at his relentless best: long red, ton, job done. A year later he drubbed Peter Ebdon 10-3 to win UK title no.4.
A fifth would follow in 1996 in the most high profile match he would ever play against John Higgins, whose consistency and mature game was marking him out as someone who could take over from his fellow Scot as snooker’s top dog.
Hendry scrambled through 10-9. He reached three more UK finals but failed (so far) to equal Davis’s record of six titles.
In 1997, O’Sullivan beat him again but, mired in depression, he withdrew from the 1998 event, which Higgins won with a 10-6 defeat of Matthew Stevens.
The tournament produced a remarkable first round reverse for Hendry, 9-0 to Marcus Campbell. He would go on to win a seventh world title at the end of the season but there were signs that, as the decade drew to a close, his reign, like that of Davis ten years earlier, was coming to an end.
Mark Williams won the 1999 UK title, beating Stevens 10-8 in the final. The last three UK Championships of the 90s had been won by O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams: the three players who between them would dominate the game as the new millennium dawned.