The 2020/21 Home Nations Series gets underway in just a matter of days with the English Open, here’s a look back at the times when tournaments from the series have come down to just a single frame
Snooker fans are now well versed in the 128 player, quickfire format associated with the four Home Nations events, with the series about to enter its fifth season. On four occasions Home Nations finals have come down to a final frame, providing the sorts of nerve shredding drama only a decider for the title can.
2016 Northern Ireland Open – Mark King 9-8 Barry Hawkins
Essex cueman Mark King found himself in his third ranking final after beating Kyren Wilson in the Belfast semis. He was aiming to land a dream maiden ranking crown after 25 years as a professional.
Standing in his way was former Crucible finalist Barry Hawkins, who had already racked up two of his three ranking titles to date. The odds were stacked against King before the first ball was struck and it seemed an even more imposing task when Londoner Hawkins raced into a 5-1 lead during the first session.
However, in typically steely fashion, King dug deep to remain in contention by claiming the last two frames of the afternoon to head into the evening just two down at 5-3.
In the second session, with King leading 8-7 and just a frame from glory he required a seven-point snooker to force a re-spot. Only the pink and black remained on the table, but the black was over the top right corner. He managed to place the pink ball impossibly on top of the black with one of the shots of his career. Hawkins fouled, but won the re-spot to take the match to a decider.
King controlled the final frame and sealed an emotional victory and win the Alex Higgins Trophy in the Northern Irish capital.
Afterwards he said: “I just thought all week my name was on the trophy. I didn’t say it, I just thought things were happening. People were missing game balls, I was winning on the black. It just looked as if it was meant to be and it was. Unbelievable.
“At 8-7 up, I came out and my little six-year-old Polly was out doing cartwheels and the splits outside the arena. That just calmed me down a little bit, seeing her happy. I thought worst case scenario I have my three gems here and my wife. I left everything on the table and it is just nice to come out and be a champ.”
2017 Welsh Open – Stuart Bingham 9-8 Judd Trump
Stuart Bingham climbed snooker’s Everest by becoming World Champion in 2015, but subsequently struggled to hit the same heights and endured a near two-year trophy drought. That dry spell was ended in Cardiff, but not before an epic clash with Judd Trump
Bingham had already lost the European Masters final earlier that season to the Ace in the Pack 9-7. He was a 17-16 victor against Trump in the semi-finals en route to his 2015 World Championship win.
In the early stages of the Welsh Open final, Bingham established a 4-0 advantage, but let that lead slip and eventually found himself 8-7 behind and on the verge of defeat. Bingham hit back to win a tense 40-minute 16th, laying a snooker on the brown and then making a clearance which included a doubled pink to a centre pocket.
In the decider it was a crucial break of 55 which helped Bingham to get himself over the line and capture the Ray Reardon Trophy.
Looking back on that victory, Bingham said: “You get people on social media saying you will never win anything again and that the Crucible win was a one off. I came close at the 2016 World Grand Prix and lost 10-9 to Shaun Murphy in the final. To finally get my hands on the Welsh Open trophy was very special. Especially considering I lost years earlier to Stephen Maguire in the final 9-8, it meant a lot to me.”
2017 Northern Ireland Open – Mark Williams 9-8 Yan Bingtao
A victory which sparked a golden season for the now three-time World Champion Mark Williams.
The Welshman had endured a barren spell which far outweighed that of Bingham’s, having not picked up ranking event silverware since the 2011 German Masters.
Following the win in Belfast, Williams went on to win three further ranking titles to take his career tally to 22. That included a first world title since 2003, defeating John Higgins 18-16 in the final to win the World Championship and become King of the Crucible for the third time.
Yan, aged just 17 at the time, would have beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record to become the youngest winner of a ranking event had he taken home the title. He subsequently failed to clinch silverware in time for the record, but the now 20-year-old has since won a maiden ranking title at the 2019 Riga Masters.
Yan performed well during a high quality final. He had looked set to make history when he led 6-3 and 8-7. However, Williams showed his class and turned the match on its head to seal the Alex Higgins Trophy.
Leading up to the final there were doubts whether Williams would even take to the baize. His wife Jo had fallen ill with Meningitis and required treatment in hospital. Williams made the decision on the morning of the final to play and thankfully she has since fully recovered. It all added up to being a very emotional occasion for the Welshman.
Williams admitted: “After I won and they were interviewing me I could feel myself choking up a little bit. I am never like that. I’ve actually felt myself do it a couple of times now, after I won in other tournaments. It was only at 11 o’clock on the morning of the final, that I told Tournament Director Mike Ganley that I would play.
“She was having something injected into her spine and I was waiting to see how that went in the morning. God forbid anything didn’t go as planned, I would have been straight on the flight home. It was really close to not having a final played, I don’t think that has ever happened before.”
2017 Scottish Open – Neil Robertson 9-8 Cao Yupeng
Having dropped out of the world’s top 16 and missed out on the cut off for Masters qualification just a week earlier, Neil Robertson returned to snooker’s elite tier seven days too late by winning the most dramatic of Scottish Open finals.
The Thunder from Down Under faced a huge deficit when he trailed Chinese counterpart Cao Yupeng 8-4. However, he mounted an improbable fightback to turn the match around.
After 2010 World Champion Robertson clawed his way back to 8-7, there was an extraordinary 16th frame. Cao looked set to clinch the title by clearing the colours, before missing a straightforward pink. He had another chance on the final black, but jawed it and the ball remained over the pocket to allow Robertson to set up a decider.
The Triple Crown winner showed his mettle by firing in a break of 59 under extreme pressure. He eventually crossed the line to take home the title and the Stephen Hendry Trophy.
Robertson said: “I can’t remember being involved in too many finals like that, where I had to come from so far behind. I was millimetres from losing with Cao rattling the black.
“I started to notice some nerves and jitters in his cue action and I was super aggressive the next few frames. It was all out attack to put him under pressure.
“He just completely outplayed me for a lot of the match. Up to 8-4 it was one of the best performances ever against me He played as the underdog and was free flowing with no pressure. I was expecting some of the mistakes he made at the end to come at the start of the match.”