By Fin Ruane
After Europe’s incredible Ryder Cup comeback last Sunday, comparisons were soon made alongside other great sporting comebacks. Liverpool’ amazing Champions League Final comeback in Instanbul in 2005 comes to mind as does Manchester United’s in the 1999 Final, but what of the great reverses in snooker?
One that the majority of snooker fans will always remember is the 1985 World Championship final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor. Trailing 8-0 after the first session, Taylor then fought back only to trail again 17-15 but, on the brink of losing 18-15, he fought back to memorably win 18-17 on the final black.
Taking into account it was the world final and it was the unbeatable Steve Davis he was playing makes Taylors comeback all the more remarkable. Since then there has been numerous comebacks in snooker, take for example Nigel Bond trailing Cliff Thorburn 9-2 in the World Championship only to dig in against the ‘Grinder’ and win 10-9. There has also been countless best of nine comebacks where one player found himself 4-0 up at the interval only to lose all five after the break.
For me though there are six great comebacks that always stand out and here they are in order of six through to one.
1992 World Snooker Championship Final: Stephen Hendry v Jimmy White
Jimmy White led 14-8 and with two frames left of the third session he looked on course to at last win that elusive world title. White took on a plant in the 23rd frame when a safety shot was the more obvious choice. His effort missed and Hendry cleared to win that frame and the next to only trail by four going into the evening session. Hendry won eight straight frames that evening to win his second world title and condem White to his fourth world final defeat.
2001 Masters Final: Paul Hunter v Fergal O’Brien
Fergal O’Brien played his best snooker since winning the British Open in 1999 in this event and in the final he found himself up against Paul Hunter. Hunter, after the second frame of the evening session, found himself trailing O’Brien 7-3 but a remarkable run of four tons in six frames saw him run out a 10-9 winner. O’Brien didn’t really do a lot wrong as Hunter was in inspired form and after the match the Leeds man revealed that the now infamous plan B that took place that afternoon in his hotel room was the reason behind his win.
1991 Masters Final: Stephen Hendry v Mike Hallett
The Masters final at this time was played over the best of 17 frames. Hallett stormed into a 7–0 lead over Stephen Hendry and missed a pink which would have put him 8–0 ahead. He then moved into an 8–2 lead and needed just one frame to win the tournament but a missed pink with the rest let Hendry in to make it 8-3. Hendry then won the next six frames to clinch the match in a decider. As if losing such a lead in such a prestigous final wasn’t enough, to make matters worse the following day when Hallett returned to his home in Grimsby he found it had been burgled.
2003 World Championship Semi Final: Ken Doherty v Paul Hunter
Paul Hunter this time found himself on the other end of a miraculous comeback – this time by Ken Doherty in their semi-final encounter in Sheffield. After three sessions Hunter established a 15-9 lead and needed only two frames from the final session to earn a place in the final. I was at the Cruicble that year and watched every frame of that match. Hunter was well worth his big lead and he was beginning to look like the world champion that so many, including myself, had tipped him one day to become. Ken came out of the blocks really quickly in the final session and a succession of breaks saw him reel off the first four frames to trail 15-13, and winning the first after the break brought him to within one frame of levelling the match. Hunter to his credit rallied and won the next to make it 16-14 but when Ken won the 31st with an outrageous fluke on the blue after Hunter had the blue for match ball you just knew there was only going to be one winner. Ken finished out the match by winning the next two frames with a clinical display of matchplay – again made all the better when it was effective against such a great player as Hunter was.
My abiding memory of that match was how Hunter conducted himself after the game. He came to the dressing room tocongratulate Ken again and wished him all the best for the final. Not many players would have done that especially after what had just happened, it was a mark of the man that Paul Hunter was. Sadly that was the closest he ever got to becoming world champion.
2004 Masters Final: Paul Hunter v Ronnie O’Sullivan
Hunter won the Masters for the third time in four years, yet again by the score of 10–9. The ‘Beckham of the Baize’ trailed Ronnie O’Sullivan throughout the entire match before pipping him to the trophy in the final frame. In fact, Hunter trailed 1–6, 2–7, 6–8 and 7–9 before reeling off the final three frames. Watching O’Sullivan applauding as Hunter collected the trophy summed up the quality of snooker that Hunter had produced against an in-form O’Sullivan.
2010 UK Championship Final: John Higgins v Mark Williams
This is in my opinion the best comeback I have ever seen by a snooker player, not only was it in a major final but the quality of the opponent in Mark Williams and the snooker he played in the final made John Higgins’s win all the more remarkable. Williams, playing some majestic snooker, led 7-2 and then 9-5 – one away from the title. At 9-7 ahead he was on the verge of triumph only for Higgins to steal it with a gritty 59 break. 61 behind with four reds left Higgins laid an absolute peach of a snooker. Williams missed and Higgins cleared to reduce the deficit even further.
Even after Higgins had levelled the match you still couldn’t pick a winner as Williams was well capable of winning the final frame and as usual the Welshman’s demeanor didn’t give a lot away of how he was feeling. Higgins, though, was to have the last say and a 66 break including a doubled brown won the championship for the Scotsman.
As I said there has been some fantastic comebacks over the years in snooker, I’m sure many have their own opinions and their own favourites and it’s fasinating to look back on them and realise just how remarkable they were. Going back to Ken’s win over Paul Hunter in the semi-final in Sheffield in 2003, after that he faced Mark Williams in the final and Ken nearly pulled off the greatest comeback ever when he trailed Williams 11-5 overnight. Winning seven out of the eight frames in the third session, Ken levelled the final at 12-12. At 16-16 it was still up for grabs but the enormity of what Ken had achieved over the last four days – firstly needing all 33 frames to beat Hunter but then to claw back another deficit in the final over 32 frames to level with Williams – left nothing in the tank. Williams found a different gear and won the next two frames to win 18-16.
As this snooker season moves on and with more events on the calender are added will we see comebacks of the calibre that have made my top 6? Quite possibly, yes. Only last week John Higgins pulled off another astonishing comeback when he trailed Judd Trump 7-2 in the final of the Shanghai Masters, but ten frames later the Scot was champion.
It’s the fasicinating thing that not just occurs in snooker but sport in general that it does have the habit of throwing up the unexpected drama just when it looked impossible.
Long may it continue!