And the pattern continued as the new decade began with John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams winning the first three UK titles between them.

Higgins had been replaced as world no.1 by Williams but beat the Welshman 10-4 in Bournemouth shortly before flying off to get married.

By the time of the 2001 UK Championship, O’Sullivan had become world champion, later than his two great contemporaries but, like them, the fulfilment of a great potential.

For once, the top eight in the world rankings all reached the quarter-finals in York in a great championship, which included 9-8 wins from 8-4 down in the last eight in one memorable night for O’Sullivan against Peter Ebdon and Williams against Stephen Hendry.

O’Sullivan would beat Williams in the semis while Ken Doherty came through against Stephen Lee, but the expected dogfight in the final never materialised as O’Sullivan turned on the style to blow away the Irishman 10-1. As Doherty put it: “He completely embarrassed me, just destroyed me.”

O’Sullivan’s title defence would end at the hands of Drew Henry the following year but Doherty once again reached the final, this time against Williams, who won their long, absorbing battle – a portent of the world final to come later in the season – 10-9.

Matthew Stevens had been in the group of players to come through after Higgins, O’Sullivan and Williams and despite his capture of the Masters and some near misses in the World Championship was yet to win a world ranking title.

He finally put this right by winning the 2003 UK title, beating Hendry 10-8 in a final in which each player played well in spells before being pegged back by the other.

The 2004 UK Championship was distinguished by having not a single top eight player in the quarter-finals. It was a strange event to be at because, from very early on, the winner seemed clear.

Stephen Maguire had reached the British Open final in Brighton shortly before York and beat O’Sullivan on the opening day with a first rate performance.

As various top stars fell by the wayside it was hard to see the Scot losing in the form he was in and he swept through the field, demolishing David Gray 10-1 in the final.

The 2005 event was the 25th anniversary of Steve Davis’s first UK triumph but few could have expected the great man to feature so prominently.

In fact, he played as well as he ever did. He produced a great finish to beat Maguire 9-8 from 8-6 down, 145 total clearance and all, and then beat Doherty and Hendry to reach a tenth UK final, 15 years after his ninth.

It was a fairytale run but did not have a fairytale ending. Ding Junhui, the 18 year-old China Open champion, beat him 10-6 in the final.

Ebdon’s 2006 capture of the UK title brought the curtain down on a high quality final few days, which included his excellent semi-final win over Higgins.

In the final, Ebdon defeated Hendry, who had reached the semis in bizarre circumstances after O’Sullivan prematurely conceded their quarter-final match trailing just 4-1.

A year later and O’Sullivan was UK champion for a fourth time, beating Maguire 10-2, although his big test came in the semi-finals where, held to 8-8 by Mark Selby, he made a 147 in the deciding frame.

Speaking of deciders, Shaun Murphy outlasted Marco Fu 10-9 to win the 2008 title after a war of attrition, which finally ended when he fluked match ball.

The 2009 final should have gone to a decider too but Higgins missed what appeared to be a routine brown against Ding, who duly beat him 10-8.

However, Higgins would secure a hat-trick of UK titles in 2010 after an improbable 10-9 victory from 9-5 down to Williams.

He is one of 17 men to have won the UK Championship in its 34 stagings. In this time it has changed sponsors and venues and trophies but remains a prize much cherished from among the array of silverware available on the professional circuit.

The UK Championship has a prestige that can’t be denied and a history that can’t be erased, even if the format has been changed in 2011.


147 said...

Ihave enjoyed these short history pieces on the uk championship.Looking forward to the masters one already.

Anonymous said...

the look on hendrys face was a picture

still makes me smile