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Iconic Moments in Snooker History: Recounting memorable shots, comebacks, and upsets

Introduction



Hello readers! Welcome to this special post commemorating some of the most memorable moments in the long and storied history of snooker. As a lover of the game for many years now, I thought it would be fun to take a stroll down memory lane and recount some truly iconic shots, comebacks, and upsets that have helped shape this beautiful sport. From its origins in the 19th century all the way to the modern day, snooker has given us countless incredible stories of drama, skill, and triumph over adversity. In the following article, I hope to do justice to some of the most phenomenal instances that demonstrate why snooker continues to captivate audiences worldwide. So without further ado, let's get started!





Here are some of the most Iconic Moments in Snooker History:


Joe Davis and the Early Years of Dominance



When talking about the most iconic moments in snooker history, we must begin at the very start, in the late Victorian era when the game first emerged and one man quickly took control in a way never seen before or since. That man was Joe Davis, widely considered to be the greatest ever snooker player. From the late 1920s all the way through to the 1950s, Davis completely dominated the sport, winning the world championships 15 times in total. Such was his level of excellence that contemporaries struggled to even come close. However, in 1946 at the age of 52, it seemed Davis' record may finally be under threat.


In the final that year he faced a younger challenger by the name of Fred Davis (no relation). A massive crowd had gathered at London's York Hall to watch what was expected to be a changing of the guard. But Joe Davis had other ideas, showing the heart of a champion once more. Trailing 7-9 in the 35 frame final, he went on a remarkable comeback to clinch a 19-17 victory, securing yet another world title. At his advancing age, it seemed an almost superhuman effort. Davis' incredible longevity and unbeatable mental strength during this period really set the standard for what it takes to dominate snooker long term. He left an enormous legacy that players are still chasing to this day.





The Crucible Theatre and the Hendry-Davis Rivalry



Fast forward a few decades, the 1980s saw snooker truly explode in popularity worldwide thanks to compelling figures like Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry battling it out on television. In 1977, the World Snooker Championship also made the groundbreaking move to being held at the iconic Crucible Theatre in Sheffield each year. This intimate setting with its atmospheric crowds is now synonymous with the elite tournament. Two historic matches that showcased the new heights the sport had reached were the 1990 and 1992 finals between Davis and Hendry.


First, in 1990, Davis was seeking a sixth world title to cement his status as the game's dominant force. However, the fresh-faced Hendry had other ideas, winning their highly-anticipated clash 18-12 in one of the most complete performances ever seen in a world final. Hendry became the youngest winner at just 21 years old. Two years later, the tables were turned, as Davis gained a measure of revenge by prevailing 18-14 in a gruelling best-of-35 frames encounter. Some of the shots both players delivered under intense pressure in front of the raucous Sheffield audience demonstrated exactly why they were so adored globally. Their rivalry across the late 80s and 90s took snooker to new commercial levels.


Ronnie O'Sullivan's Rocket-Fast Ascent



While Davis and Hendry set the benchmark, in the new millennium it was a young Essex potter called Ronnie O'Sullivan who was about to raise the bar to seemingly impossible new heights. Few in the sport had seen anything like 'The Rocket' when he exploded onto the scene in 1992 as the youngest ever qualifier for the World Championship at just 17 years of age. However, it was in 2001 when he truly announced his genius to the wider world by achieving snooker's holy grail - a maximum break during his first round match against Mick Price at the WCM in just 5 minutes and 20 seconds.


This feat had only been accomplished 13 times before, but never so quickly. O'Sullivan's combination of incredible speed, reflexes, and natural ability left even seasoned pros in awe. He went on to dismantle Hendry 18-5 in the final, underlining that a new king had arrived. In the following years, O'Sullivan broke numerous records by completing total clearance breaks (138+) at an unprecedented rate. His blistering semi-final against Mark Williams in 2008's UK Championship, where he rattled in six centuries including a maximum, has been called one of the greatest ever displays of snooker skills. To this day, the GOAT debate between him and Hendry still rages on.




 

The Comeback Kings - Higgins and Selby



While natural talent and rapid fire play wow the crowds, snooker is also a psychological battle that often sees true grit and perseverance rewarded. Step forward John Higgins and Mark Selby - two warriors who have dug exceptionally deep on numerous occasions to pull off stirring comeback victories against all odds. In 1999 and 2005, Higgins famously fought back from 8-14 and 5-14 respectively to defeat Kenny Doyle 18-17 at the Crucible. These title wins affirmed his 'Wizard of Wishaw' nickname and mental strength.


Perhaps his most incredible rearguard action came in 2020 against an in-form Anthony McGill. Losing 10-14 but refusing to surrender, Higgins amassed six consecutive frames to move ahead for the first time. McGill responded to level at 16-16, but Higgins dug even deeper to snatch the last two frames and complete the most dramatic comeback victory seen at the tournament. Another master of fightbacks is four-time world champion Mark Selby, who has earned the moniker 'Jester from Leicester' for his dogged defence. His 2014 semi against Ding Junhui, recovering from 7-14 to prevail 17-15, truly encapsulates his will to win.


Inspiring Upsets and New Blood Rising



While the greats have pulled off iconic moments, nothing gets the snooker world buzzing quite like a major upset. One that still sends shockwaves is the 1993 World Championship, when qualifier and 500/1 outsider Stephen Hendry dethroned the six-time defending champion and veteran Steve Davis in the semi-finals. This ushered in Hendry's era of dominance but showed even the established elite are vulnerable. Fast forward to 2014, few gave 38-year old amateur Mark Allen much chance in the final against juggernaut Selby. But Allen, cheered on by a passionate home crowd in Belfast, blitzed Selby 18-11 for one of the competition's greatest shocks.


The success of surprising underdogs inspires new crops of talent believing their time could come. In recent years, the younger generation have provided their own indelible moments. In 2017, 22-year old sensation Yan Bingtao upstaged the great O'Sullivan 10-8 in the UK Championship final to become the tournament's youngest winner. The 2020 World Championship also saw 25-year old Kyren Wilson push great foe Judd Trump to a final-frame decider, capping his sparkling run to the final. And let's not forget Neil Robertson becoming the sport's first non-UK winner for over 20 years in 2010. As long as stunning surprises and fresh faces keep emerging, snooker's magic will live on.


Sterling Silver and Amazing Maximums



No discussion of snooker magic would be complete without paying homage to the beauty of a maximum break. Watching a player clear all reds and colours from the table in one fluid sequence creates spine-tingling drama like no other. While the Rocket racked them up faster than anyone, several landmark moments show the thrill of a 147. None were more seismic than when 24-year old Jamie Burnett stunned the Crucible by achieving the first televised maximum there in qualifying in 1997. Later that event, a 20-year old John Higgins repeated the feat in front of stunned onlookers.


In 2003, it was the exceptional talent of Marco Fu who served up the tournament's first maximum in a final. Most recently, in 2020, we witnessed the incredible tension as 20-year old Yan Bingtao knocked in the fifth maximum break at the event to reach the quarter-finals - the youngest player ever to achieve this feat on snooker's biggest stage. Away from the Crucible, few can forget a teenage Judd Trump's effortless century breaks, including an emotional maximum, as he battled illness to win the 2005 UK Championship at just 16 years old. As long as the cloth remains green and those balls sparkle, the dream of 147 endures.


Memorable Finals and Golden Moments


While upsets and maximums deliver instant excitement, the truly golden moments often emerge from epic finals going down to the wire. Some that stand out include the inaugural ‘modern’ World Championship final in 1969, when Emmott kicked the final black only to see it return for John Spencer to clinch the title. Fast forward to the famed 1985 final, which saw Dennis Taylor grab headlines worldwide by edging out Steve Davis 18-17 in a final frame that has become the stuff of sporting legend. More recently, the scintillating 2013 final saw Ronnie O'Sullivan pip Barry Hawkins 18-12 in a contest boasting a higher average than any before.


FAQs


What was Joe Davis's record at the world championships?


Joe Davis dominated snooker in the early years, winning the world championships an unprecedented 15 times between 1927-1946. He set the bar exceptionally high and his longevity and mental strength were unmatched.


Who were the main rivals featured in the 1980s/90s boom for snooker?


Two standout rivals during snooker's boom period were Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry. Their battles at the Crucible Theatre helped lift snooker to new commercial heights, with Hendry defeating Davis in 1990's final and Davis gaining revenge two years later.


What records did Ronnie O'Sullivan break?


Ronnie O'Sullivan holds the record for the fastest maximum break at just 5 minutes and 20 seconds. He has also compiled more total clearance breaks than any other player. The "Rocket" took the game to new speeds and his natural talent left many in awe.


Who are some famous "comeback kings"?


John Higgins and Mark Selby are both renowned for epic fightbacks. Higgins recovered from large deficits twice to win the World Championship in 1999 and 2005. Selby also repeatedly digs deep under pressure to win from behind, like his 2014 semi-final recovery against Ding Junhui.


What are some notable upset victories?


Stephen Hendry's 1993 semi-final win over Steve Davis paved the way for Hendry's dominance. Mark Allen also caused an immense shock by defeating Selby 18-11 in the 2014 Northern Ireland Open final as a 38-year-old amateur.


What are some iconic maximum breaks mentioned?


Jamie Burnett's 1997 maximum at the Crucible, Marco Fu's effort in the 2003 World Championship final, Judd Trump at age 16 in the 2005 UK Championship, and Yan Bingtao becoming the youngest player to make a 147 at the Worlds in 2020.


Conclusion


In conclusion, this retrospective journey through some of snooker's most celebrated moments serves as a reminder of both the enduring magic and rich history of this wonderful game. From Joe Davis's initial decades of dominance setting the competitive standard, through the explosive rivalry era of Davis and Hendry fueling snooker's popularity boom, and up to the modern tournaments still delivering inspirational underdog tales and breathtaking maximum breaks.


No matter the era or cast of champions, snooker continues to enthral audiences with its compelling mix of surgical shot-making, gripping comebacks against the odds, and unpredictable shocks that keep everyone on the edge of their seats. The quintessentially British sport has evolved while retaining its core values of strategy, concentration, and composure under pressure. With arenas packed full once more as we emerge from the pandemic, the next generation of prodigious talents are primed to author their own place in snooker folklore.


The future undoubtedly looks bright, yet we must not forget to appreciate how far the game has already come. When reminiscing about immortal moments like the Class of '92 flourishing on television, Ronnie O'Sullivan's outrageous speed demon performances, or this year's epic World Championship climax, it's clear snooker's illustrious history runs as deep as the pockets on a full-sized table. With an enduring spirit of excellence and entertainers capable of producing magic at any moment, the sights and sounds from the baize will surely continue to elevate hearts for decades more. The show goes on.



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