The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
Stephen Hendry began the 1990/91 snooker season as a fresh-faced world number one and the sport’s newest world champion.
If he was supposed to struggle with the pressures that came with carrying those mantles, nobody told Hendry.
A quite incredible opening few months to the first full campaign of the new decade saw the Hendry express triumph in the opening four ranking events that were staged.
The Scot overcame Nigel Bond to win the Grand Prix, a tournament which had grown in stature as one of the longest-running on the calendar.
Hendry subsequently denied veteran Dennis Taylor in the title decider of the Asian Open, the first ranking event ever held in China.
Trips overseas for invitationals had become commonplace in the 1980s – initially for the Matchroom stable of players led by Barry Hearn – but ranking tournaments abroad were increasingly popping up on the schedule at this point too.
One such event was the Dubai Classic, and rarely was Stephen Hendry’s dominance so utterly underlined than during its 1990 edition.
The then 21 year-old displayed zero fear and produced confidence levels so high that even the concept of allowing his opponents a few frames seemed unacceptable.
Hendry beat Ian Graham, Alain Robidoux, Neal Foulds, Mike Hallett, and Dean Reynolds in the UAE to reach the final – losing just seven frames along the way.
A familiar face was the challenger in the final, with Steve Davis looking to bring an end to the streak of a man who had recently knocked him off his long-held perch.
But such was Hendry’s form it was never likely to materialise, and Davis suffered the heaviest defeat of his career in a final – a chastening 9-1 drubbing.
A month later in Preston, the pair clashed again for the UK Championship trophy, just as they had twelve months previously at the Guild Hall when the symbolic changing of the guard occurred.
Davis ran it much closer on this occasion and had opportunities to win 16-14 but lost the penultimate frame on the colours, before a trademark single-scoring visit of 98 from Hendry sealed victory.
Hendry added the British Open later in the 1990/91 snooker season for a fifth ranking title that term, a record that was only recently broken by the present-day world champion and world number one, Judd Trump.
Around the same time at the turn of the New Year, there were two other lucrative prizes to contest for.
At the Masters in February, it looked as though Hendry’s unbeaten record in the tournament was about to finally end when he trailed Hallett 8-2 in the final in London.
Hallett had suffered an embarrassing 9-0 defeat at the same hurdle to Davis in 1988 but was on course for a career-defining turnaround.
There was a turnaround alright, but not as Hallett would have wished for as a crucial missed pink allowed Hendry in to recover the situation.
Seven frames on the trot and a third Masters victory in a row consigned Hallett to a miserable 9-8 loss.
A week before the Masters it had been all smiles between the pair as they teamed up for victory in the World Masters doubles.
The Mita World Masters was a massive festival of snooker organised by Hearn, encompassing various singles and doubles competitions for both men and women players.
Jimmy White triumphed in the main event, while an underage tournament concluded with a teenage John Higgins beating Mark Williams to lift the title.
The tournament was never staged again, which is a shame because the concept was fun and could even fit well into today’s calendar.
Towards the end of the 1990/91 snooker season, all logic pointed to Hendry defending his world title in Sheffield, but the “Curse of the Crucible” had other ideas.
No first-time champion has ever returned the following year for a repeat success, and Hendry’s inevitable demise came in the quarter-finals when he suffered a shock 13-11 reverse against Steve James.
There is a somewhat common misconception that, despite it being one of the biggest rivalries in the sport’s history, Jimmy White could never beat Hendry.
The “Whirlwind” had actually beaten Hendry in two notable finals that very season, including in the Mercantile Credit Classic in January which ended Hendry’s hot streak in ranking events.
Only weeks earlier, White had also toppled his younger foe in the prestigious World Matchplay final that lasted four sessions.
Still, there was the opinion at the 1991 World Championship that, with Hendry out and Steve Davis’ career on a downward trajectory, the path was opening up for White to finally fulfill his potential on the biggest stage.
In the semi-finals, the Englishman comfortably beat James in a match in which both memorably celebrated their birthdays on the first day of action, and as luck would have it Davis lost in the other last four encounter to John Parrott.
Surely, then, it would be third time lucky for the People’s Champion in a final at the Crucible?
Parrott, who had established himself as a worthy member of the top four in the world rankings and a consistent force at the business end of tournaments in the years prior, was seeking to erase the painful memories of his 18-3 session-to-spare humiliation from the 1989 final.
Possibly as a result, the former Junior Pot Black champion produced a staggering level of play in the first session of the showdown to lead 7-0.
White was never able to fully recover, and the Liverpudlian was crowned with an assured 18-11 scoreline.
The sport had another new world champion, the tenth different winner of the Crucible era, but in 1991 even bigger changes were afoot.