The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
Heading into the 1998/99 snooker season, Stephen Hendry wasn’t the world champion or the world number one.
It was the first time in almost a decade that he failed to hold at least one of those coveted titles.
John Higgins had eclipsed him as Scotland’s best, bagging four ranking event trophies the campaign before including the big one in Sheffield.
The “Wizard of Wishaw” was in the midst of a stunning run of form that had only really been produced by the likes of Hendry and Steve Davis before him during the Crucible era.
By Valentine’s Day of 1999, Higgins’ CV was just about complete as he wrapped up victory in the Masters for the first time in his career.
Higgins edged Ken Doherty 10-8 in the final in what was a repeat of their Crucible showdown when the former claimed his maiden world crown.
The Masters was the last prestigious competition that the then 23 year-old needed for his collection, and it came only a couple of months after he had raised the UK Championship trophy aloft to boot.
After 20 years at the Preston Guild Hall, the UK Championship moved to Bournemouth.
Behind the scenes, the sport was in the process of change and it wasn’t quite capturing the imagination with the public in the same fashion as a decade earlier.
Nevertheless, it was difficult to notice any issues on the table itself due to the high standard that was being produced at the highest echelons of the game.
Ever since it opened its doors to more professionals in the early 1990s, wave after wave of young talent broke through.
Higgins, alongside contemporaries Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams, formed the backbone of the “Class of ’92” – a triumvirate of stars who continue to be near the top of the odds for upcoming snooker events.
In the middle of the 1998/99 snooker season, Williams recorded a hat-trick of ranking event victories in quick succession, two with defeats of McManus and the other by edging Hendry in the final of his home tournament, the Welsh Open.
Meanwhile, Doherty and the likes of Peter Ebdon, Alan McManus, James Wattana, and Anthony Hamilton, who lost in the final of the British Open to Fergal O’Brien, were slightly older but regularly featured at the business end of proceedings throughout the 1990s as well.
However, towards the end of the decade, a new collection of pretenders emerged with just as much attacking prowess.
Welshman Matthew Stevens had made a name for himself the term prior by reaching the latter phase of several events, including the quarter-finals of the World Championship.
But by reaching the final in Bournemouth he established himself as a big-time contender, despite ultimately falling short to Higgins.
Higgins also beat Paul Hunter in the semi-finals of that tournament, the latter having already etched his name onto silverware in the 1998 Welsh Open.
At the very outset of the 1998/99 snooker season, Stephen Lee – often touted as the fourth member of the “Class of ’92” – finally came good too by triumphing in the Grand Prix.
Lee overcame Marco Fu 9-2 after the Hong Kong cueist made an astonishing run to the final in his very first tournament appearance as a professional.
Later, a 21 year-old Graeme Dott reached the final of the Scottish Open, only to be to destroyed in a humbling 9-1 loss to Hendry.
Hendry, to his credit, had bounced back strongly from a miserable spell – by his standards at least – that culminated in a shock 9-0 loss to Marcus Campbell in the UK Championship.
After winning on home turf in Aberdeen, Hendry managed to secure an additional glory with a tight 9-8 victory over Lee in the final of the invitational Irish Masters at Goffs.
Approaching the World Championship in April, Hendry was back in form and again one of the hot favourites for the title.
A nervy 10-8 victory over Hunter in the first round was followed by more comfortable wins against Wattana and Stevens, before a grandstand semi-final encounter with the “Rocket” Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The latter was still chasing what many thought to be a long overdue maiden world crown, and his performances throughout the 1998/99 snooker season didn’t really suggest that was going to change with only two appearances in non-ranking finals to his name.
O’Sullivan and Hendry had already been involved in plenty of huge showdowns but few were as high-quality as this one.
Their third session of eight frames boasted five century breaks and the scores were tied at 12-12.
Hendry, though, conjured up all of his powers of ruthlessness in the last session to pull away for a 17-13 triumph.
The other semi-final saw Williams inflict the “Curse of the Crucible” on reigning champion Higgins, and it marked the only time that the period’s “Big Four” shared the semi-final line-up in Sheffield.
“King” Hendry was not to be denied, and by beating Williams in the final he rounded off the decade as he began it – as world champion.
It represented his seventh in all, an incredible new record for the modern era.
The 1990s was nearing its climax and there was a familiar champion to celebrate, but the sport was just about to enter its most turbulent decade yet.