With only a few days to go until the start of the 2015 World Snooker Championship, it’s time to start reeling out the preview articles for this year’s showpiece event.
There have been many great players down through the years who have graced the Crucible stage but never quite managed to become snooker’s world champion….yet, at least.
In this revised list, 2014 champion Mark Selby makes an exit from last year’s top 10, so a spot has opened up for some other unlucky loser – but who gets the nod?
10 – Doug Mountjoy
Some of the players on this list aren’t even 34 yet but this was how old Welshman Doug Mountjoy was when he turned professional in 1976. Already the world amateur champion, it didn’t take Mountjoy long to taste success in the higher ranks as he quickly captured the 1977 Masters and 1978 UK Championship. Ten years later, at 46 years-old and the UK now a ranking event, Mountjoy won his maiden ranking title and followed it up by capturing the Mercantile Classic. The closest he came to winning the big one was in 1981 when a young Steve Davis claimed his maiden success. Mountjoy arguably fell foul of being slightly too old when snooker’s initial boom occurred.
Crucible Record: Final – 1981
There are many players on this list who could conceivably still etch their name into the famous World Championship trophy. The second person on here is one such player. Stephen Maguire burst onto the scene in 2004 by winning the European Open before completely dismantling the UK Championship field to collect his one and only major. This led Ronnie O’Sullivan to suggest at the time that the Scot could dominate the sport for the next decade. Ironically, though, a series of high-profile defeats to the ‘Rocket’ would set Maguire back and his potential has arguably been unfulfilled. Maguire once claimed that he wanted to win in Sheffield before his 30th birthday. At 34, that date has long since passed and one feels time is running out for the gritty Glaswegian.
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 2007, 2012.
8 – James Wattana
The boom in China may never have happened if it wasn’t for James Wattana. Although he hails from Thailand, his success during his first decade on the Main Tour in the early 1990s spread interest across South East Asia and offered the early signs that snooker could go global. Wattana won the 1988 World Amateur Championship and in his next seven years as a pro featured in eight ranking event finals, winning three of them. His best chance of capturing the holy grail came in 1997, when he was narrowly defeated by Stephen Hendry in the last four.
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 1993, 1997
Judd Trump leaps into the Top 10 for the first time – an honour I’m sure for the young Englishman! Trump didn’t make last year’s list largely based on his lack of years on the circuit but, even though he is only 12 months older, there really isn’t much other competition for the 25 year-old. Trump had been held in high regard since his early teens but it wasn’t until the 2011 China Open that he burst onto the scene. A few short weeks after his success in Beijing, Trump was becoming headline news across the sporting stratosphere as his own unique brand of “naughty snooker” brought him to the final of the World Championship. He narrowly lost to Scotland’s John Higgins but would go on to capture the UK Championship the following December and become world no.1 less than a year after that. Trump subsequently suffered a dip in form but has excelled this season amid an entertaining rivalry with Ronnie O’Sullivan which has seen the pair contest three major finals. Trump won their World Grand Prix meeting and is well poised for a good run in Sheffield in the next fortnight.
Crucible Record: Final – 2011, Semi-Final – 2013
6 – Paul Hunter
We will never know the level of success that Paul Alan Hunter could have enjoyed in this sport, for five days short of his 28th birthday the affable Englishman suffered the final blow following his painful battle with cancer. Known as the ‘Beckham of the Baize’ for his striking good looks, boyish charm and charisma on and off the table, Hunter was a key component in an era largely dominated by the big four – Hendry, O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams. Between 1998 and 2004, Hunter claimed a hat-trick of dramatic Masters crowns, three ranking event titles and reached the 2003 World Championship semi-final. That he lost that match 17-16 to Ken Doherty having led 15-9 going into the last session seemed largely irrelevant given his magnanimity in defeat and the seemingly long future he had in the game to redeem himself.
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 2003
5 – Ali Carter
This is perhaps where the list gets a little contentious. While Ali Carter has been a great player for many years some will argue that there are others, such as maybe Maguire or Hunter, who deserve to be either on the list or higher up it ahead of the ‘Captain’. That said, it’s difficult to argue with the record of a player who has reached two finals in Sheffield. Carter’s career is one of highs and lows. The 35 year-old has been as high as number two in the world rankings but probably hasn’t garnered enough silverware to be considered alongside the greats or nearly greats. But if it wasn’t for Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2008 and 2012, Carter could be a one or even two-time champion of the world. Regardless of all that, Carter did win his ultimate battle with life and death when he overcame a second cancer scare earlier this season.
Crucible Record: Final – 2008, 2012, Semi-Final – 2010
4 – Eddie Charlton
Following Mark Selby’s World Championship triumph in 2014, ‘Steady Eddie’ moves up a place to fourth and again there may be an issue as to the positioning. It’s difficult to compare eras. Charlton’s success mostly came when snooker was just beginning its rise into mainstream media. The game was not open to as many players and it is questionable as to how well somebody of Charlton’s ability could have fared in today’s age, against the abundance of formidable foes. Yet, one can only beat who is put in front of him or her and Charlton contested three World finals between 1968 and 1975. While it took 61 frames to decide the latter, when he narrowly lost to Ray Reardon 31-30, the Australian’s most success actually came in the single-frame Pot Black tournament, which he prevailed in three times.
World Championship Record: Final – 1968, 1973, 1975, Semi-final – 1971, 1972, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1982
At just 28, the Chinese Sensation will have plenty of opportunities to land his first World Championship but, as we’ll see with numbers one and two, failure to do so in the prime years could prove fatal come the conclusion of a career. With a record-equaling five ranking event titles last season, 11 in total as well as victory in the 2011 Masters, Ding is the real deal. We always knew this to be the case and it felt like just a matter of time until his potential was fulfilled. With the weight of expectation from hundreds of millions of Chinese fans on his shoulders, Ding’s frequent struggles with pressure has been understandable but by capturing three trophies in his homeland during the 2013/14 campaign he seemed to have released an aura of invincibility. A nightmare season this time around brought reality back into the equation, although there were some positive signs at the recent China Open where Ding reached the last four. Were he to go on and win the World Championship Ding would become a treasured national icon.
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 2011
Some people may forget just how good Matthew Stevens was in the World Championship. The Welshman had and still has a wealth of talent but for whatever reason could not translate this into sustained silverware success. Now 37, Stevens’ best years are probably behind him but at least for him two of his biggest victories came in the majors – the 2000 Masters and 2003 UK Championship. That he couldn’t add a World Championship was down to a combination of unusually inspired play from his opponents and his own inability to get the job done. He came closest in 2000 and 2005 when he held large leads over countryman Mark Williams and qualifier Shaun Murphy respectively, only to surrender on both occasions 18-16. A master in the long match format, there is still a small chance that Stevens could go close again but his time is certainly running out.
Crucible Record: Final – 2000, 2005, Semi-Final – 2001, 2002, 2004, 2012
There was only ever going to be one name in top spot. Burdened with the honour of being the best player to have never won the World Championship is Jimmy White, the People’s Champion. Not many don’t know the story of the ‘Whirlwind’, one of the most popular British sportsmen of all time. White’s career has been a glorious one. White was the world amateur champion in 1979 and went on to collect 10 ranking event titles and countless invitationals including the Masters on home turf in London. However, his legacy will forever be tainted with his record at the Crucible. Six finals, six defeats. That he contested this many – five in a row between 1990 and 1994 – is testament to how good a player he was but a mixture of bad fortune and poor preparation led to him never adding the holy grail to his glittering collection of accolades. Some hurt more than others. He was favourite to beat John Parrott in 1991 but never recovered from losing the opening seven frames and the following year he was 14-8 up on prime rival Stephen Hendry only to lose the next ten frames in a row. Perhaps most agonising was his last chance in 1994 when, on his birthday, he missed a routine black off the spot in the decider at 17-17 to allow Hendry, the bane of his career for a fourth time, in for another crushing defeat. White, forever gracious, joked in the immediate aftermath that the Scot was “beginning to annoy me.” Forever adored by his legion of fans, White, at almost 53, still believes he can win the big one, but is already out of the 2015 edition after losing in the qualifying rounds.
Crucible Record: Final – 1984, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, Semi-Final – 1982, 1987, 1988, 1995
Photos courtesy of Monique Limbos.