The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
While one of the focal points of the previous campaign was the emergence of Ronnie O’Sullivan, the 1994/95 snooker season introduced another new star into the mix.
John Higgins had turned professional alongside O’Sullivan in 1992 and had watched as his fellow teenager received the limelight by capturing a brace of early ranking titles, including the 1993 UK Championship.
During the 1994/95 snooker season the Scot went one better, collecting three trophies of equally elevated status as he made his brilliant breakthrough, and the pair duly kickstarted their rivalry against one another.
Higgins thrashed the “Rocket” 5-0 in the quarter-finals of the Grand Prix as he proceeded to land a maiden ranking crown before ending O’Sullivan’s British Open reign with a 9-6 defeat of the Englishman in the Plymouth final.
In between, the duo also battled for the prestigious Masters invitational title at the Wembley Conference Centre in London.
They were both just 19 years old, and it was an even clearer sign that snooker at this juncture had transformed itself into a young man’s sport.
O’Sullivan had qualified for the Masters the conventional way, as he had already quickly risen up the ranks to break into the top 16 in the world rankings.
Higgins was given a wildcard alongside Mark Williams, who won a separate qualifying tournament to make his debut as well.
It would take a little longer for the latter to join the fun in terms of winning titles, but there’ll be plenty more on the Welshman to come.
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Higgins and O’Sullivan, meanwhile, had already immersed themselves in the big-time, and in the 1995 Masters final the Englishman came out on top for his second Triple Crown success.
At the World Championship a few months later, the possibility of a new name on the trophy was very real.
Higgins qualified for the first time, but like most before him and many others since, the “Wizard of Wishaw” struggled with the overwhelming occasion and lost in the opening round to Alan McManus – winner of the season opener Dubai Classic.
Buoyed by his Masters triumph from 1994, McManus had temporarily shaken off the label of being a nearly man, but his exit in the last 16 in Sheffield would become an all too familiar feeling.
O’Sullivan embarked on a run to the last eight, where defending champion Stephen Hendry continued to be an unstoppable force at the Crucible.
By his lofty standards, the Scot hadn’t done much since before Christmas, but he always seemed to be able to shift through the gears by the time Sheffield came around.
Hendry beat O’Sullivan in the last eight before a 147 break – only the third ever at the World Championship – helped him in his semi-final success over long-time rival Jimmy White.
In what was his fifth final in six years, it was actually the first time Hendry didn’t have the “Whirlwind” on the opposite side of the table when the silverware was within his grasp.
Instead, it was an unexpected challenge from Nigel Bond, and unsurprisingly Hendry dominated the contest to rubber stamp his authority as the “King”.
That year’s edition also generated headlines for all the wrong reasons as Peter Francisco, nephew of 1985 British Open champion Silvino, was embroiled in a match-fixing scandal that resulted in the South African being banned from the sport for five years.
Match fixing was not a new phenomenon in snooker but this was by far the most high-profile instance, and unfortunately it would represent only the first of many major transgressions to come.
Hendry’s dozen centuries in the 1995 World Championship, incidentally, was a new record, but that probably wasn’t even his best personal achievement during the 1994/95 snooker season.
At the UK Championship in November, Hendry beat Ken Doherty 10-5 to win the tournament for a third time.
Again he compiled twelve tons throughout the event, but an astounding seven of those occurred in the final itself.
There may have been a fresh wave of talent coming through but Hendry, still just 26 himself, was the undoubted world number one.
During the next campaign his dominance would reach the highest of levels yet again.
At one time, Steve Davis was the player everyone feared the most, but despite hanging onto the world number two spot his spell at the very top was on its last legs.
In January, the “Nugget” triumphed in the Welsh Open, somewhat ironically beating a Higgins in the final, albeit it was John and not the Alex Higgins who he had enjoyed so many tussles with during the decade prior.
A 37 year-old nowadays would be considered to be in their prime, but for Davis the emerging competition was too fierce, and it proved to be the last of his 28 ranking title victories.
I Think John Higgins v Ronnie O’sullivan is the greatest rivalry of all time. They met five times in this season and it finished 3-2 To Higgins. They broke through so quickly and it is remarkable that (bar the season O’Sullivan took off) they have played each other every season since.
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