The latest player to take part in our Greatest Match series is 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott. Logically it turned out to be an in depth discussion on his crowning Crucible moment, an 18-14 defeat of Peter Ebdon in the 2006 world final. However, Dott was keen to point out that he feels it was his finest hour, rather than finest performance…
“To be honest with you, when you actually think about the greatest match, it is very hard for me to say the 2006 World Championship final with Peter Ebdon. Everybody will think that I would say that, but it just wasn’t a good match,” said the now 44-year-old Dott.
“That would be the most memorable, so if that is how you define it, I need to go with that. The best moment for anyone is winning the World Championship. If I was to say the best game I’ve played, I’d either go for the 2004 semi-final with Matthew Stevens that I won 17-15 or the other would be a 13-12 win over Mark Allen in 2010.”
Before Dott could reach that showpiece showdown with Ebdon, he faced a semi-final meeting against familiar foe Ronnie O’Sullivan. The Rocket had already accounted for the Scot in a comprehensive 18-8 win in the 2004 world final. This time he faced a fiercely pumped up Dott, who went toe to toe with him throughout the encounter.
A factor which connected the pair was coach Del Hill, who was working with Dott having previously coached O’Sullivan. Looking back, Dott concedes that his contributions were crucial in getting the win.
Dott with former coach Del Hill.
Dott admitted: “I don’t think I’d have won that match without big Del to be honest. He talked me through how he thought the match would pan out and what he thought Ronnie would be like. Everything he said came out exactly as he had described. It was incredible really.
“A lot of what he said, I would rather keep to myself. One part I can say was to do with safety. Ronnie is fantastic at safety. Del was saying that I had to stay in the battles for longer. In many matches, you will need to play two good safeties to get yourself a chance. With Ronnie you may need to play four. We tried to play the safety exchanges as matches in their own right. Try to win those battles and take it from there. Del said that if you break him down and keep winning those exchanges, then his head will go and he will get frustrated. That was what happened.”
A particular flash point in the match came in the second session, when O’Sullivan bit off his tip and left the arena to have it repaired backstage. Dott was angered at O’Sullivan for biting the tip off, rather than going through the usual process of obtaining a suspension of play through the referee.
“I was getting a bit of momentum when he did it. Initially, out in the arena, I thought it was fine. I didn’t realise he’d bitten it off until I got back to the dressing room. I wasn’t happy and I was already quite psyched up, because we were in the middle of a match. I wasn’t best pleased.
“It massively fired me up. It wouldn’t have felt like this to Ronnie, but to me it felt like a grudge match. I was up for it. Before the third session, it felt to me like he really gripped my hand hard when we shook before play. That was the best way for me to play, with that feeling and intensity.”
That third session proved to be one of the most memorable of Dott’s career thus far. With the scores locked at 8-8, he whitewashed his illustrious opponent to move just a frame from victory at 16-8. He finished the job in the next session to run out a comfortable 17-11 victor and secure his place in the final with Ebdon.
“To win the third session 8-0 was a huge boost to my confidence. I know that is quite a famous session and not many people will do that to Ronnie. I’ve still played better than that session, but it was so satisfying that I didn’t let up, take my foot off the gas or bottle it. When a lot of people get in that position, they start to overthink it. I knew I had him where I wanted him. I didn’t take my foot off his throat and I didn’t let him feel comfortable all the way through that session.”
Going into the final Dott, like many others, held an unenviable record against Ebdon, having lost all five of their prior matches. However, the confidence gleaned from his last four defeat of O’Sullivan fuelled belief that this was his time and his opportunity.
The Larkhall cueman went into the match prepared to dig to any depths in order to overcome his steely, and at times, leisurely paced opponent.
“I’d never beaten Peter before and a lot of moments in those games were times when I was very frustrated. He would slow the matches down and I would get annoyed. I was prepared for that this time. It didn’t matter how slow or how long the game was going to be, I wasn’t going to get frustrated. It did pan out that way and the game seemed to go longer and longer, but I just wasn’t giving in. I was really confident that I could win. I was a massive underdog in the other finals that I’d appeared in. It felt like an even game against Peter. It was nice to be in one which I fancied I could win.”
The first three sessions all went the way of Dott and a dream maiden world title looked to be all but secured when he led 15-7 heading into the final evening. However, complacency, the undoing of many sporting stars on the biggest stages, crept into Dott’s usually impenetrable psyche. After Ebdon narrowed the gap to just two frames at 15-13, Dott knew he needed to do something to turn the tide.
“When I won the third session, I stupidly thought there was no way I’d lose from 15-7 up. I actually went for a sleep in the dressing room in between the afternoon and evening sessions. I went to sleep thinking that it was done. When I woke up and got ready to go out for the final session I was actually too relaxed. I felt like a million bucks when I walked into the arena.
“I started playing and I couldn’t pot a ball. I could not pot a single ball. I was panicking. It was a bit like a marathon runner who is miles in front and the legs go. All of a sudden you feel like you are running through superglue and someone is charging up behind you. I genuinely thought at one point that the only possible outcome was that it would slip away. It was a horrible feeling.
“I went to the toilet and washed my face and threw water over my head at 15-13. I didn’t want to wait, a lot of people wait too late to shake themselves up. This wasn’t working and I needed to act straight away. I decided that when I went back out, I would open my arm up and start having a go at shots. Luckily it worked and I got over the line.”
The clock stood at 12:53am when an exhausted Dott eventually clambered past the finish post to seal a momentous victory. At the time it was a record for the latest ever finish in a Crucible final. He admits that in the immediate aftermath there was only one emotion coursing through his veins
“The emotions were relief rather than ecstasy. If I’d won 18-10 it would have been different. The way it turned out I felt I’d won it, then I felt I’d lost it and then it felt like it had been given back to me. I was just so relieved. It was a phenomenal feeling though. I’d watched other people get handed the trophy on television for years and years. It was surreal to hear my name get called out and step forward to take the trophy. It is something I will never forget and nobody will ever be able to take away from me. The drive home the next day was special. Along the motorway, outside Larkhall, they had the big signs up and welcomed me home and that was really nice. Those are the little things that you remember and don’t experience very often in your life.”
Fast forward 15 years and Dott once again stands at a critical juncture. He is in need of some big performances with the Race to the Cazoo Masters heating up. Dott currently stands in 17th place, one behind the qualification slots, but is running out of events to bridge the gap.
The Pocket Dynamo will be bidding for a big run next week to force his way into contention for a first trip to Alexandra Palace since 2013. He faces Mark Davis in the opening round of the BetVictor English Open in Milton Keynes. You can be there to see how Dott and a world class field fare. Click here to book tickets now.