Matthew Stevens
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When Matthew Stevens Won the UK Championship

Matthew Stevens takes on Mark Selby in the last 16 of the UK Championship on Thursday at the Barbican Centre in York.

Younger or new fans to the sport might not remember, but there was a time when the Welshman was a permanent fixture at the latter stages of Triple Crown events.

It’s remarkable to think that his defining moment – in ranking events at least – occurred 16 years ago at this very venue.

In 2003, Stevens finally looked like putting the demons of failure behind him by triumphing in that edition of the UK Championship.

The then 26 year-old had already twice been a runner-up in the event, the same number of times he would agonisingly fall short at the final hurdle in the World Championship at the Crucible Theatre.

Indeed, out of eight appearances in the title deciding match of a ranking event, that 2003 glory still stands as his solitary success.

Stevens, who reached a career high ranking of number four despite often struggling to perform at his best in the less prestigious tournaments on the calendar, also etched his name on the invitational Masters trophy in 2000.

The “Welsh Dragon” turned professional in 1994 and rose to the elite in an era when the fantastic four – Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, and Mark Williams – were at the peak of their powers.

Alongside those stars and other young, attacking contemporaries like Stephen Lee and Paul Hunter, snooker was quite different from today when the game is somewhat dominated by experienced players well into their thirties and forties.

Matthew Stevens was a classy competitor and, when in form, was one of the toughest cueists on the circuit to beat for more than a decade.

Several things transpired against him, which over time resulted in a dramatic plunge down the rankings that has led to him becoming a forgotten star.

The succession of defeats in major finals wouldn’t have helped – particularly two meltdowns in Sheffield in 2000 and 2005 when he had a world trophy at his finger tips.

However, there were many personal turmoils that he had to overcome too, notably the deaths of his father in 2001 and his close friend Hunter in 2006.

The following year, the World Championship was again the scene of pain for Stevens as he inexplicably squandered a 12-7 lead in a 13-12 quarter-final loss to Shaun Murphy.

A victory would have safeguarded his place in the top 16 of the world rankings but, apart from a mini revival at the outset of this decade, Stevens has rarely featured in the higher echelons since.

Now 42, Stevens has been beyond the last 16 of a ranking event only once in the last five years.

With his best days clearly behind him, there may not be many opportunities left for him to embark on a run to the business end of a major competition.

Still, several of those players from his heyday – Snooker’s Trinity of O’Sullivan, Higgins, and Williams – remain at the top of the sport and, with a restored sense of confidence, Stevens is capable of producing close to that kind of level.

Whether the scars of those painful losses have healed, or will ever heal, remains the obvious question in doubt.

Stevens has recorded a hat-trick of timely victories so far, with his wins over Chen Feilong, Ryan Day, and Anthony Hamilton guaranteeing him a cheque worth £17,000.

That kind of prize money will prove enough to, at the very least, safeguard his position on the Main Tour, with an unlikely return to the top 32 now within his sights.

Against Selby, Stevens will face the English Open champion who perhaps has a resurgence agenda of his own to bolster.

Selby said after his 6-3 victory over Martin O’Donnell in the third round: “I think he (Stevens) has underachieved in the game.”

“He’s probably not put the work in to achieve what he should, but he seems to be going in the right direction again now.”

Sixteen years have passed since Matthew Stevens beat Stephen Hendry to claim the title and he has only reached the last eight of a UK Championship once in the interim.

On Thursday, he has a rare opportunity to enjoy a return to the limelight again.

Live coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport.

Click here to view the draw (Times: CET)

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