The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
By the 1995/96 snooker season, the sport was undergoing changes, but there was one constant you could rely on – Stephen Hendry.
Hendry was a serial winner on the main tour, the runaway world number one, and as a five-time world champion the undisputed “King of the Crucible”.
None of that would change much during this campaign, and in fact his stranglehold as the game’s very best was never more ironclad.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Grand Prix was one of the most established events on the calendar and had become a regular fixture on the BBC schedule.
Nowadays, the BBC focusses its attention on the UK Championship, Masters, and World Championship – romanticised as the Triple Crown – but back then the Grand Prix was effectively regarded as the fourth major.
Hendry had already won his home event, the non-ranking Scottish Masters, before he entered the 1995 Grand Prix in Sunderland.
The Scot faced young countryman John Higgins in the final, the latter having emerged as an elite contender with a hat-trick of ranking titles the season prior.
Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan were setting the pace in terms of the chasing pack that was breaking through, and they were establishing themselves as genuine threats on a regular basis.
There were plenty of others too, with fellow “Class of 1992” member Mark Williams joining the champion’s circle with victory in the Welsh Open that term – a remarkable feat when it’s taken into consideration that his highest break in the entire tournament was just 74.
Peter Ebdon, Alan McManus, and Ken Doherty were all slightly older than the “Class of 92” and were familiar with the more sizable cheques, while the likes of Anthony Hamilton, Matthew Stevens, and Paul Hunter were all showing clear signs of what they were capable of as well.
Hendry, though, didn’t seem to care, particularly in the majors which he completely smashed throughout the 1995/96 snooker season.
At the Grand Prix, the then 26 year-old overcame Higgins to lift the title for a fourth occasion.
About a month after, Hendry subsequently defended his UK Championship crown with a quite remarkable performance.
If his 1994 showing had been impressive when he compiled an incredible seven centuries in the final, the 1995 display underlined just the level of dominance he could muster.
Hendry beat Hamilton 9-3, Doherty 9-3, Higgins 9-1, and Ebdon 10-3 as he stormed his way to yet another victory.
It wasn’t very different in the Masters just after Christmas, with Hendry again accounting for Higgins in the first round before a 6-0 quarter-final drubbing of old rival Jimmy White – the “Whirlwind” struggling by now to keep hold of his place among the top 16 in the rankings.
After edging McManus in the last four, Hendry outplayed reigning champion Ronnie O’Sullivan to etch his name onto the trophy for a sixth time – a record that would last for more than two decades.
Fast forward to Sheffield and not much was changing as Hendry coasted to the final – albeit only after narrowly getting past his first hurdle of current WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson.
In the final, it was Ebdon again, and although the challenge was sterner than in Preston, Hendry managed to come out on top an 18-12 winner.
Indeed, it was a sixth World Championship title to match Steve Davis and Ray Reardon’s modern day record tally.
The ironic thing was that Hendry, by his highest of standards, probably wasn’t even at his most clinical.
Yet, he was certainly at his most powerful and exuded a fear factor that often had challengers defeated before they even took their first shot.
Four majors equated to four triumphs, and the second time he secured the clean sweep of Triple Crown titles in a single season.
That said, with few things left to achieve in the game the inevitable steady decline would soon be set into motion.
He never won another Grand Prix or Masters, albeit more silverware would come amid the greatest achievement of them all – with more on that later.
For fellow six-time world champion Davis, whose dominance had well and truly come to an end, good results were becoming fewer and farther between.
The “Nugget” did challenge at one of his happier stomping grounds for the Irish Masters at Goffs but ultimately came up agonisingly short of a ninth title, losing 9-8 to Darren Morgan.
Higgins, meanwhile, may have lost several notable head-to-heads with Hendry, but he was certainly establishing himself as the best of the rest.
The “Wizard of Wishaw” enjoyed the 1995/96 snooker season, pairing a couple of runners-up spots with a brace of ranking event victories.
John Parrott was also back in the pantheon of success on a regular basis, doing his familiar overseas trick with glories in both Thailand and Malta.
The latter had become a regular destination for the circuit, mostly thanks to the popularity of world number 14 Tony Drago.
The “Tornado” was as fast, as exciting, and as reckless as they come, highlighted in a quick-fire second round match with O’Sullivan at the Crucible in which the pair traded blows for 17 frames in less than three hours.
O’Sullivan, who reached the semi-finals before losing to Ebdon, had already gotten into trouble with the authorities and first-round opponent Alain Robidoux, with the Canadian accusing O’Sullivan of disrespect by playing with his opposite hand.
A year later, there would be fireworks again for the “Rocket” at the Crucible Theatre, but under very different circumstances.