We’ve been speaking some of snooker’s top analysts and pundits to find out their views on the greatest title matches ever contested at the Cazoo UK Championship.
Last week David Hendon, Alan McManus and Neal Foulds selected their top threes, this time it’s the turn of snooker journalist Hector Nunns and WST Podcast host Michael McMullan…
The first thing this correspondent did when asked to come up with a top three UK Championship finals was to immediately ask for a top five instead – an appeal that was unceremoniously rejected. Even a cursory trawl through the memory banks or glance at the honours board is enough to serve as a reminder just how many classic encounters this tournament has produced in the showpiece occasion on the last night when the trophy is lifted.
And for so many different reasons. Sometimes for the sheer drama and excitement of the match itself. Maybe for the quality. Or alternatively what the success represented.
There are many it seems especially wrong not to be able to include for a variety of these reasons. Stephen Hendry’s seven centuries to beat Ken Doherty in 1994 may never be equalled in a best-of-19 frame match. And the Scot’s two wins in 1989 and 1990 against Steve Davis screamed ‘changing of the guard’ at that time. Willie Thorne’s missed blue at 13-8 up against Steve Davis in the 1985 final, after a brilliant display to that point, is the stuff of legend. And John Higgins’ comeback 10-9 win against Mark Williams in 2010 was remarkable for many reasons, not just winning the last five frames but also the wider circumstances – having recently returned from a six-month ban, and with his father gravely ill.
But in the end there is no ducking the decision. For me the 1983 UK final between Alex Higgins and Steve Davis helped ignite a passion for snooker that has endured to this day. As at that time a huge and devoted Higgins fan, to see the underdog thrillingly fight back against the sport’s dominant force from 7-0 down to win 16-15 in Preston was arguably the greatest win of his turbulent career, even taking in the world championship successes.
For the second I’m going for the 1993 final between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry, and this is really one that takes on even more significance almost 30 years later. It was the night that a sporting superstar was truly born, a comprehensive 10-6 defeat for the world No1, and a window into the years of enjoyment and entertainment that the Rocket was to provide in his trophy-laden and compelling career. From that moment, no one has taken their eyes off him.
And finally and more recently, the magnificent 2020 final between Neil Robertson and Judd Trump. In a clash between two of the game’s serial winners, incredibly there was never more than a frame in it throughout the entire match. Trump, the world No1, had a great chance to end that sequence at 9-8 for victory but missed a red to allow the Australian to level. And in arguably the most dramatic final frame of a major event since Davis/Taylor at the Crucible in 1985 a series of mind-bending twists and turns culminated in Trump missing the final pink needing both of the two last balls to win, allowing an almost disbelieving and numb Robertson to fall over the line.
1. 1990 – Stephen Hendry 16-15 Steve Davis
Hendry powered through the first five frames and went on to lead 7-2, but Davis himself had twice built even bigger leads in four-session finals during his heyday, so he more than anyone understood there was time to turn it around. Sure enough he made it 15-14, but having built a significant lead in the next frame he couldn’t get across the line, and Hendry didn’t let him off the hook. His blue with the rest in that frame is probably one of the ten greatest shots of all time, and it was part of a 57 clearance to pink which summed up so much of what he was all about in that era. The same could be said of the way he won the decider, getting in early and making 98. It’s often said this was the moment when Hendry replaced Davis at the top of the game; in truth, that had already happened the season before, but so much about this final set the tone for what he would go on to do again and again throughout a decade which belonged to him from start to finish.
2. 2010 – John Higgins 10-9 Mark Williams
Williams was in the midst of one of his trademark career revivals, and went to the brink of capping it with a third UK title when he led 9-5. There wouldn’t be many players you would regard as still being in with a realistic chance when they need to win the last five frames in a big final, but Higgins is certainly one of them, and although the Welshman had his chances to get the one more he needed, it became harder and harder to do as Higgins kept applying the pressure. To make someone of Williams’ temperament struggle like that is quite a feat in itself, and it was a fascinating tussle all the way to the finish as Higgins prevailed 10-9, setting him on the way to winning the World and UK in the same season for the only time in his career.
3. 1983 – Alex Higgins 16-15 Steve Davis
Such was the contrast between them in so many ways, that whenever these two met there was always a real edge to it. Although the rivalry between them has become legend, the head to head actually came out in Davis’ favour to an extent rarely seen between two players who starred in the same era. So whenever Higgins enjoyed one of his rare victories it was big news, and probably never more so than in this final. Davis was outstanding on his way to 7-0, but strangely began to struggle in winning only one of the next nine frames. Higgins was back on level terms as early as 8-8 and led for the first time at 12-11, but ended up having to win the last two frames, and did just that for a famous 16-15 win. It’s fair to say Davis moved on from it though – it was five years before anyone beat him in the UK Championship again.