The 1995 Masters marked the 21st staging of the tournament but the final was contested by two players not born when the event began.

Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, both 19, were two outstanding juniors from different ends of the UK who along with Mark Williams had emerged as players most likely to threaten Stephen Hendry’s dominance of the game.

More than a decade later they would serve up one of the most dramatic of all the Masters finals but in 1995 O’Sullivan cruised to victory, 9-3.

He was in the final again the following year but lost 10-5 to Hendry, who thus secured a sixth and final Masters title.

Steve Davis suffered from flu prior to the 1997 event. He felt rotten and turned up at Wembley not expecting very much but battled past Alan McManus and Peter Ebdon before a 6-1 defeat of Ken Doherty sent him through to the final nine years after his second capture of the trophy.

He faced O’Sullivan, a red hot favourite in a final interrupted early on by a female streaker. It was O’Sullivna who appeared to be streaking away with the match, building an 8-4 lead before it all turned round.

For so many years the villain of the piece in his own backyard, Davis found the crowd increasingly warming to him as he mounted an unlikely comeback and secured one of the most satisfying wins of his career, coming as it did long after his peak. His 10-8 victory was his last major success in a final.

As if the drama of this finish was not enough, Williams and Hendry managed to supersede it a year later. 23 years after John Spencer had edged ray Reardon on a re-spotted black, the tournament once again came down to an extra ball.

Hendry had led 9-6 but Williams rallied to equalise. Hendry had first poke at the additional black, a tricky pot to the left middle which stayed out, leaving Williams a much easier black for victory.

The WPBSA sent his £145,000 winner’s cheque to a different Mark Williams, a Londoner who was also a member. Thankfully, he returned it uncashed.

Ken Doherty featured in the next two finals. He lost 10-8 to Higgins in 1999 but the disappointment of this defeat was nothing compared to what happened a year later against Matthew Stevens.

He was well behind in the match but had a chance to emulate Kirk Stevens by making a 147 at Wembley. Doherty, though, felt his whole body shaking as he approached the final black and it stayed out, denying him the keys to a sports car worth £90,000. It is a shot which still haunts him.

Stevens went on to win 10-8 and a year later was replaced as champion by his great friend Paul Hunter, who breathed new life into the tournament with a series of remarkable recoveries in finals.

He was 6-2 down to Fergal O’Brien in 2001 when he returned to the tournament hotel and, as he put it, ‘put plan B into operation’ with his girlfriend, Lyndsey.

Hunter played great stuff in that final session, a brand of fearless snooker which made him an instant star. He won 10-9 and a year later rallied from 5-0 down to beat Williams also in a decider.

Williams beat Hendry 10-4 to land the final Masters to be sponsored by Benson and Hedges in 2003 but Hunter was back on the comeback trail in 2004, roaring back from 7-2 adrift to edge O’Sullivan 10-9.

Three finals, three comebacks, three deciding frame victories. Hunter gave the crowd their money’s worth, injected drama and style into the tournament and did it all with the grace for which he was renowned. How the game still misses him.

A decade on from their first Wembley final, O’Sullivan beat Higgins again, this time 10-3, to win the 2005 title before their epic 2006 battle.

This was the last match played at the Conference Centre before it made way for a redevelopment but it was a fitting finale: two great players at the top of their games and the final going its full distance.

O’Sullivan led 60-0 in the decider before Higgins produced one of the great pressure clearances, 64 to win it on the black.

2007 brought yet another Masters final for O’Sullivan, this time at Wembley Arena. It was a performance Davis would describe as ‘unplayable,’ an awesome display of snooker which demoralised Ding Junhui, who had begun the event with a 147 and would end it walking off the stage in tears, trying to concede at 9-3 down.

Mark Selby’s run to the 2007 world final helped him secure a top 16 place and therefore a Masters berth. His debut was sensational, three deciding frame finishes before a 10-3 defeat of Stephen Lee in the final, Selby thus becoming the first player since Hendry 19 years earlier to win the title on his debut.

He lost 10-8 to O’Sullivan the following year but then edged him 10-9 in yet another Wembley thriller to regain the title in 2010.

Last year the final featured two Asian players as China’s Ding Junhui beat Marco Fu of Hong Kong 10-4. For Ding it was an exorcising of the demons of four years earlier and further proof of how he has become a big occasion player.

This season’s Masters, sponsored by BGC Partners, will be held at the Alexandra Palace in London. It marks a new chapter for a tournament with a rich history.

The Masters remains a test of the elite, a fascinating duel between the very best the green baize has to offer.

Here’s to more drama, more great snooker and many more fabulous memories…


Anonymous said...

Can't wait! Every match is hard to call, particularly looking forward to Maguire v Williams. Nice article Dave, and there's a nice piece on Judd Trump in today's Telegraph.

jamie brannon said...

I imagine people may know but there was a documentary on BBC One on Wednesday about depression in sport, featuring among others Graeme Dott.

Aside from spelling his name wring, Dott provided some good insight to this much misunderstood illness.

In addition, Ali Carter gave an interesting interview to The Times yesterday. It made me realise that people shouldn't be so dismissive of his threats to retire.

Anonymous said...

links please jammie...

jamie brannon said...

It's on the BBC i-player. You've got to subscrine to The Times website for the Carter piece.

Anonymous said...

er, thanks for the "links"