Over the next five days I will be building up to the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters by looking back at some of the tournament’s greatest moments. This is not necessarily a top five, just a personal recollection of some Wembley highlights. First up, the greatest ever comeback from 20 years ago...
The year was 1991 and the player was Stephen Hendry. 20 years on he is struggling badly for form and seriously contemplating his future. Back then, he was simply sensational: the best player the game had ever seen.
It wasn’t just Hendry’s obvious talent but also his attitude and will to win. He had an inner belief in himself, something you are born with or not. Most aren’t but Hendry, an introvert, was capable of producing his best snooker when the pressure was well and truly on.
A week or so before the 1991 Masters he partnered Mike Hallett to the doubles title at Barry Hearn’s World Masters in Birmingham.
Hallett was one of the world’s best at the time. He had reached the 1988 Masters final after getting four snookers in the deciding frame of his semi-final against John Parrott and won the 1989 Hong Kong Open, a ranking title.
In 1991 Hallett was playing the best snooker of his career. Even so, that he should win all seven frames of the opening session of his Wembley final against Hendry was a bolt from the blue.
Hendry, after all, had never lost in the Masters since his debut in 1989. He was world champion, UK champion and world no. l. Defeat was possible but surely not humiliation.
Yet that was the stark reality the Scot faced as he traipsed out of the arena following a debilitating first session.
Hallett arrived back at his hotel obviously fully confident that he was on the verge of his greatest moment as a professional. What could possibly go wrong?
His mistake turned out to be switching on the TV. The BBC coverage was still on and presenter Tony Gubba asked studio guest John Spencer, the first Masters champion in 1974, for his thoughts.
Spencer said that, of course, Hallett was a big favourite but that if Hendry could win the first two frames then the final was not necessarily over.
It might not seem much but that one small observation planted a slight seed of doubt in Hallett’s mind, which grew when Hendry indeed closed to 7-2.
Even so, at 8-2 the final was there for the taking. Hallett was clearing up. He potted the blue but, inexplicably, missed the pink. Hendry made it 8-3.
Then he made it 8-4. Then 8-5. Suddenly the early night everyone expected had vanished.
Hallett’s thinking was by now all over the place. Having been composing his victory speech in his head, he was now contemplating a defeat he could never forgive himself for.
I think he would have beaten anyone else, but he had practised often with Hendry and knew that if anyone could come back it would be him.
And he did. He won 9-8, an incredible reversal and proof not just of Hendry’s poise under pressure but also of his iron will to win. Even at 7-0 down he believed he could do it and he did.
It got worse for Hallett: when he returned home he found his house had been burgled, symbolic of a thoroughly miserable night.
It’s a myth that his career nose-dived immediately. In fact he won two major invitational titles the following season but he dropped out of the top 16 in 1992 and never returned.
Hendry would win the next two Masters titles and six in all, more than any other player.
Yes, he’s having a bad time of it and his career looks to be in serious trouble but, my word, when he was good he was very, very good.