On Crucible Eve, it always seems like the perfect time to revisit this Top 10 list that continues to divide opinion every year.
There have been many great players who have graced the Crucible stage but who ultimately could never quite manage to become snooker’s world champion….yet, at least.
This list isn’t as clearcut as simply the player with the most ranking titles or the one with the greatest ability, instead trying to encompass a variety of factors while also attempting to accommodate for different eras in a balanced way.
In reality, competitors from decades ago might struggle to feature in the higher echelons of the sport these days but that’s beside the point as they could only beat, or lose to in this case, the opponents that were in front of them in that given timeframe.
So who gets the honour, or dishonour if you insist, of placing inside the top 10 list of players who have never won the World Snooker Championship?
10 – Barry Hawkins
The first new addition to this list since 2015, Barry Hawkins knocks Doug Mountjoy out of the top ten. It’s amazing to think how far Hawkins’ career has come. The “Hawk” always had the talent but he rarely replicated that on the main stage until well into the second half of his career. Indeed, the Englishman lost in the first round at the Crucible in his first five attempts between 2006 and 2010. However, in 2012 Hawkins took advantage of a weakened field to capture his maiden ranking event title at the Australian Open, thus setting into motion a remarkable change in fortune for the now 38 year-old. In that season’s World Championship, Hawkins produced the snooker of his career to reach the final, where he put up a commendable challenge in defeat to the unstoppable Ronnie O’Sullivan. In three out of the last four editions in Sheffield, Hawkins has reached the semi-finals, proving that his 2013 run was no fluke. Although he’s never lifted any of the triple crown trophies, Hawkins has become a permanent fixture inside the top eight in the world rankings and, with runs to the finals of both the Welsh and China Opens in the second half of this season, is again considered as a dark horse for the blue riband event this year.
Crucible Record: Final – 2013, Semi-Final – 2014, 2015, 2017
9 – Stephen Maguire
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, albeit time does appear to be running out for the Scotsman. 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 Maguire 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. Now aged 37, that date has long since passed for the gritty Glaswegian. He was forced to qualify this year, but came through unscathed and perhaps that warm up will be just the tonic he needs to get going again. It certainly helped last year when he emerged from the qualifiers with a run to the last eight, after four successive defeats in the first round. Maguire is 80/1 in the latest World Snooker Championship betting odds but his opponent in the last 32? Ronnie O’Sullivan.
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 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. Wattana’s career fell away badly, coinciding with the turn of the millennium and a wave of fresh talent coming onto the scene. The 48 year-old has still been plugging away on the tour without much success and, having completed his two-year invitational tour card, might not be back again next season after failing to break inside the world’s top 64. However, this year a fifth player from Thailand qualified for the Crucible with Thepchaiya Un-Nooh securing a maiden berth, ensuring that Wattana’s legacy remains a strong one.
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 1993, 1997
7 – 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 at the time given his magnanimity in defeat and the seemingly long future he had in the game to redeem himself.
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 2003
6 – Ali Carter
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 Englishman. 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, both on the baize and away from it. The 38 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. 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. The “Captain” just about clung on to a place in the top 16 this season after a difficult spell on the circuit and could face familiar nemesis O’Sullivan – a player he has never beaten in a meaningful contest throughout his long career – in the last 16.
Crucible Record: Final – 2008, 2012, Semi-Final – 2010
5 – Judd Trump
This was one of the more difficult decisions this year as there are definitely arguments to be made for Trump rising a place to number four, but for now he stays where he is. Trump is still just 28 but has already threatened at the Crucible on multiple occasions. The Bristol potter had been held in high regard since his early teens but it wasn’t until the 2011 China Open that he truly burst onto the scene. A few short weeks after his success in Beijing, the Englishman was faring as 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 subsequently became the world number one less than a year after that. The last few years for Trump has been a story of inconsistency. He has countered periods of lull with significant spells of success but there has never been a sense that he has everything under control or that he’s playing within himself. It’s gung-ho and it’s brilliant or it’s under the cosh and desperate. Trump went into last year’s World Championship not only considered as one of the favourites but also boasting about it too, and he duly suffered the consequences with a drab first-round exit to Rory McLeod. Has he learned a lesson? It remains to be seen.
Crucible Record: Final – 2011, Semi-Final – 2013, 2015
4 – Eddie Charlton
‘Steady Eddie’ stays in fourth despite there being a debate every year as to his high placing. 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 managed in today’s age, against an abundance of formidable foes full of attacking prowess. Yet, one can only beat who is put in front of him or her and Charlton’s record in the World Championship speaks for itself. He reached the semi-finals on nine occasions, contesting the final in 1968, 1973, and 1975. While it took 61 frames to decide the latter, when he narrowly lost to Ray Reardon 31-30, the Australian’s greatest 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
3 – Matthew Stevens
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 success. Now 40, Stevens’ best years are probably behind him but providing some consolation is that 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. Stevens still has a few years left in his career to make one more big effort and he advanced from the qualifiers in the English Institute of Sport this week to reach the last 32 for the first time in three years.
Crucible Record: Final – 2000, 2005, Semi-Final – 2001, 2002, 2004, 2012
2 – Ding Junhui
Ding Junhui has been promoted to second place this year – a difficult decision because Stevens’ record at the Crucible is so good. Yet, with 13 ranking event titles in total as well as a victory in the 2011 Masters, Ding is quite obviously the real deal and it’s quite amazing that his potential is yet to be fulfilled. With the weight of expectation from tens of millions of Chinese fans on his shoulders, Ding’s frequent struggles with pressure have 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 couple of seasons after brought reality back into the equation, not least when he was forced to attend Ponds Forge to qualify in 2016 after dropping out of the top 16 in the world rankings. But qualify with ease he did, before duly embarking on his best ever run at the Crucible, reaching the final before being narrowly defeated 18-14 in a wonderful showdown with Mark Selby. Ding has just turned 31, which in snooker terms is still quite young. However, the player at number one on this list will testify that time doesn’t always yield the predicted accolades.
Crucible Record: Final – 2016, Semi-Final – 2011, 2017
1 – Jimmy White
There was only ever going to be one name in the top spot. Burdened with being attributed the best player to have never won the World Championship is Jimmy White, the People’s Champion. Not many are unaware of the story of the “Whirlwind”, one of the most popular British sportsmen of all time. White’s career has been a glorious one. He was the world amateur champion in 1980 before proceeding to collect ten 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 a 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 the 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 regular 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.” Always adored by his legion of fans, White, at almost 56, still believes in his ability but he was defeated in the qualifiers this year and has failed to make it back to snooker’s mecca in every edition since 2006.
Crucible Record: Final – 1984, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, Semi-Final – 1982, 1987, 1988, 1995