Paul Hunter died six years ago today. He was only 27. Next week he would have turned 34, still easily young enough to have been competing at the highest level.

We all know about his career. He remains the youngest player to reach a ranking event semi-final at just 16. He beat five top 16 players to win the Welsh Open in 1998 at the age of 19.

He won the Masters three times, all in deciding frame finishes after unlikely comebacks.

He won a total of three ranking titles, reached a high of fourth in the world rankings and came within a frame of reaching the 2003 World Championship final.

These facts should not be forgotten because they sum up a career which was already successful and would surely have hit greater heights.

But Paul was a player about whom people thought not of statistics but his more human characteristics: he was always smiling, he was always determined to have fun. When he won he did so without triumphalism. When he lost he did so graciously without any bitterness.

He was, in every sense, a personality, someone who drew people to snooker. Those Masters finals were remarkable matches, not just through his recoveries but because of how well he played to win them, centuries flying in, pressure balls being dispatched, his nerve remaining firm to the end.

If Ray Reardon, who I wrote about yesterday, was one of those who lit the snooker fuse in the public mind, Paul was one of the main reasons it kept burning amid gross mismanagement and lost opportunities.

His cancer diagnosis came shortly before the 2005 China Open, a tournament now remembered for sparking the current snooker boom in China, due to Ding Junhui winning it at the age of 18.

Paul still travelled to Beijing to play, obviously deeply concerned about his future. The press knew he was ill but did not know the severity of his condition at this point.

After he won his first match we requested him for an interview. This can take quite a long time in China because various people want a piece of the player but a good 20-30 minutes passed with no sign of Paul.

We assumed he had left the building, and quite possibly cursed him for it. Someone went off to see what had happened and found him still in the arena, patiently signing autographs for fans.

Paul wasn’t a saint but he had a genuine goodness, recognised by snooker fans the world over.

He loved the game and the game loved him.


Anonymous said...

Sadly missed..R.I.P.

Anonymous said...

I doubt if I would ever have become a snooker fan if it wasn't for Paul Hunter.

Levi100 said...

Paul will always be remembered for his stylish play, his reading of the game was second to none, as was his fluent breakbuilding. Had he lived he would surely have become world champion. Always remembered.

LuigiVampa said...

RIP The Beckham of the Baize...

Sadly missed.

Ray said...

Great piece again Dave and as you say very sadly missed.
My abiding memory of Paul Hunter was the 2004 Player's Championship where he lost a close final to Jimmy White. He was still smiling in defeat and Jimmy's dad put his arms round both players and hugged them. 2 great sportsmen;3 genuine blokes - there couldn't have been a better advert for snooker.That's what sport should be about.

Mics147 said...

RIP Paul Hunter. True legend.

Anonymous said...

I agree Paul wasn't a saint as you put it, but I don't remember anyone ever telling me they didn't like him.
Also what sticks in my mind is the way he took defeat to Ken Doherty after being a mile in front in the world semi finals.
A crushing blow taken graciously which proved to me, that snooker was just a game to Paul.
Something others could learn from.

Graeme said...

Agree with Ray's comments. I was lucky to have been given a player's lounge invitation for the 2004 Player's final. After Jimmy won, both players went back to the lounge and socialised for hours with family, friends and guests. Paul was a true gentleman and it was impossible to know if he'd won or lost.
A credit to the game and a very sad loss.

Anonymous said...

God Bless you son

Always so tragic when one dies so young

RIP and may you walk in the light