Tradition at SnookerHQ dictates that, just before the World Championship begins, we revisit this list of unlucky losers.
First written way back in 2014 and updated each year, the top 10 players who never won the World Championship list always tends to strike debate among fans.
There have been many great players who have graced the Crucible stage, but who ultimately could never quite manage to become snooker’s ultimate champion…yet, at least.
This list isn’t as easy as simply choosing the player with the most ranking titles or the one with the greatest ability, but instead attempts to encompass a variety of factors while also accommodating for different eras in a balanced way.
In reality, competitors from decades ago might struggle to feature in the higher echelons of the sport these days, but that’s beside the point as they could only beat, or lose to in this case, the opponents that were in front of them in their given generation.
Then who gets the honour, or dishonour if you insist, of placing inside the top 10 list of players who never won the World Championship?
Top 10 Players Who Never Won the World Championship
10 – Barry Hawkins
Barry Hawkins entered the list a couple of years ago when he knocked Doug Mountjoy out of the top ten. Despite a little shuffle ahead of him, he manages to hold onto this place again in 2020.
It’s amazing to think how far Hawkins’ career has come. The “Hawk” always had the talent, but he rarely replicated that on the main stage until well into the second half of his career. Indeed, the Englishman lost in the first round at the Crucible in his first five attempts between 2006 and 2010.
However, in 2012 Hawkins took advantage of a weakened field to capture his maiden ranking event title at the Australian Open, thus setting into motion a remarkable transformation in fortune for the now 41 year-old. In that season’s World Championship, Hawkins produced the snooker of his career to reach the final, where he put up a commendable challenge in defeat to an unstoppable Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Hawkins subsequently reached the semi-finals another four times in five years, proving that his 2013 run was no fluke. Although he’s never lifted any of the triple crown trophies, Hawkins has become a regular fixture among the higher echelons of the rankings.
The last couple of campaigns haven’t been particularly strong ones, but his enviable Crucible record means that Hawkins will rightly still be considered a credible dark horse.
Crucible Record: Final – 2013, Semi-Final – 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018
9 – James Wattana
The boom in China may never have happened if it wasn’t for James Wattana. Although he hails from Thailand, his success during his first decade on the Main Tour in the early 1990s spread interest across Asia and provided the early signals that snooker could go global.
Wattana won the 1988 World Amateur Championship, and in his next seven years as a pro he featured in eight ranking event finals, winning three of them. His best chance of capturing the holy grail came in 1997 when he was narrowly defeated by Stephen Hendry in the last four.
Wattana’s career fell away badly soon after, coinciding with the turn of the millennium and a wave of fresh talent coming onto the scene. The 50 year-old has still been plugging away in more recent times thanks to an invitational tour card, without much success.
Still, Wattana’s legacy within the sport remains strong, highlighted by the fact that Thai players continue to compete strongly on the Main Tour. In 2020, countrymen Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Noppon Saengkham have qualified for the World Championship and will face Ronnie O’Sullivan and Shaun Murphy in the first round respectively.
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 1993, 1997
8 – Mark Allen
With Judd Trump no longer eligible, there had to be a new addition to this list of players who never won the World Championship. Many probably felt that Mark Allen should have already been included in past editions, but the Northern Irishman is finally recognised in 2020.
One of the main reasons Allen never made the top 10 in the past was because his overall record at the Crucible is so disappointing. After reaching the quarter-final three times on his first five starts in Sheffield, the 34 year-old has been back at that stage only once in the last eight years.
It’s a poor showing for a player of Allen’s stature, and he’ll be hoping to set the record straight in the rescheduled tournament this year. A former Masters champion, Allen has elevated himself into the world’s top four in the rankings for the first time in his career following a consistent campaign in which he hasn’t secured any silverware, but he has featured at the business end in a lot of events.
The former world amateur champion was widely tipped as a future Crucible king, and there’s still time for him to achieve the ultimate goal. His draw in 2020 has been relatively kind, so with form on his side he is set up nicely to finally challenge for the big one. Who knows, maybe he’ll only feature in this top ten once?
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 2009
7 – Stephen Maguire
Like a couple of names written about already, there are many players on this list who could conceivably still etch their name onto the famous World Championship trophy. The fourth person on here is one such player, albeit time does appear to be running out for the Scot.
Stephen Maguire burst onto the scene in 2004 by winning the European Open, before completely dismantling the UK Championship field to collect his one and only Triple Crown title. This led Ronnie O’Sullivan to suggest at the time that Maguire could dominate the sport for the next decade.
Ironically, though, a series of high-profile defeats to the ‘Rocket’ would set Maguire back and his potential has arguably been unfulfilled. Maguire once claimed that he wanted to win in Sheffield before his 30th birthday. Now aged 39, that date has long since passed for the gritty Glaswegian.
Compared to Hawkins, Maguire has just two semi-final appearances to his name and some may query why he’s higher on the list of players who have never won a World Championship, which is understandable. While Hawkins has arguably punched above his weight, Maguire’s failure to make the most of his ability is what has been so frustrating throughout his career.
One sudden spark could still change that, and coming off a terrific 2019/20 term in which he recently triumphed in the prestigious Tour Championship will do his confidence levels the world of good. Martin Gould, a player he has never beaten, represents a difficult first-round opponent, but it’s surely a case of now or never for Maguire.
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 2007, 2012.
6 – Paul Hunter
We will never know the level of success that Paul Alan Hunter could have enjoyed in this sport, for five days short of his 28th birthday the affable Englishman suffered the final blow following his painful battle with cancer. Known as the “Beckham of the Baize” for his striking good looks, boyish charm, and charisma on and off the table, Hunter was a key component in an era largely dominated by the big four – Hendry, O’Sullivan, Higgins, and Williams.
Between 1998 and 2004, Hunter claimed a hat-trick of dramatic Masters crowns, three ranking event titles, and reached the 2003 World Championship semi-final. That he lost that match 17-16 to Ken Doherty having led 15-9 going into the last session seemed largely irrelevant at the time, given his magnanimity in defeat and the seemingly long future he had in the game to redeem himself.
Other lists like this have Hunter higher up – there was a similar column on Eurosport a few months ago in which Desmond Kane placed Hunter in third. For me, that’s too high and romanticises his potential a little bit, as we simply can’t be certain that he would have consistently stayed at the top of the game or not. However, from the brief spell of snooker we did enjoy from him, it’s obvious that Hunter had something special about him.
Crucible Record: Semi-Final – 2003
5 – Ali Carter
While Ali Carter has been a great player for many years, some will argue that there are others, such as maybe Maguire, Hunter, or Stephen Lee, who deserve to be either on the list or higher up it ahead of the Englishman. That said, it’s difficult to argue with the record of a player who has reached two finals in Sheffield.
Carter’s career is one of highs and lows, both on the baize and away from it. The 41 year-old has been as high as number two in the world rankings, but he probably hasn’t garnered enough silverware to be considered alongside the greats or even nearly-greats.
Nonetheless, if it wasn’t for Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2008 and 2012, Carter could be a one or even two-time champion of the world. The “Captain” is rarely shy of voicing his opinions and that kind of dogged mentality has served him well in the past.
With his best years probably behind him, Carter did pull off another surprise by reaching the final of the Masters in January as a late replacement for his old rival O’Sullivan. At the Crucible, he could have been dangerous again, but in 2020 he succumbed to the dreaded qualifiers and missed out on his return with defeat to Louis Heathcote in the preliminaries.
Crucible Record: Final – 2008, 2012, Semi-Final – 2010
4 – Eddie Charlton
‘Steady Eddie’ rises back up to fourth in the list of players who never won a World Championship. Charlton’s placing causes discussion each year on social media, but his record is undoubtedly enviable and it’s difficult to compare eras.
Charlton’s success mostly came when snooker was just beginning its rise into mainstream media. The game was not open to as many players at that time, and it is questionable how well somebody of Charlton’s ability could have managed in today’s age, against an abundance of formidable foes full of attacking prowess.
Yet, one can only beat who is put in front of them, and Charlton’s consistency in the World Championship speaks for itself. He reached the semi-finals on nine occasions, contesting the final in 1968, 1973, and 1975. While it took 61 frames to decide the latter, when he narrowly lost to Ray Reardon 31-30, the Australian’s greatest success actually came in the single-frame Pot Black tournament, which he prevailed in three times.
Charlton also has the unique recognition of moving up in the official world rankings list even after he had died, which, you know, deserves a few extra points.
World Championship Record: Final – 1968, 1973, 1975, Semi-final – 1971, 1972, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1982
3 – Matthew Stevens
Some people may forget just how good Matthew Stevens was in the World Championship. The Welshman had, and still has, a wealth of talent but for whatever reason could not translate this into sustained success.
Now 42, Stevens’ best years are probably behind him, but providing some consolation is that two of his biggest victories came in the majors – the 2000 Masters and 2003 UK Championship. That he couldn’t add a World Championship was down to a combination of unusually inspired play from his opponents and his own inability to get the job done.
He came closest in 2000 and 2005 when he held large leads over countryman Mark Williams and qualifier Shaun Murphy respectively, only to surrender on both occasions 18-16. Stevens possibly still has some time left in his career to make one more big effort ,but it seems unlikely at this stage that he’s ever going to escape from this group of bridesmaids.
In 2020, Stevens has been drawn with John Higgins in the first round.
Crucible Record: Final – 2000, 2005, Semi-Final – 2001, 2002, 2004, 2012
2 – Ding Junhui
Ding Junhui stays in second and will probably remain in this position for some time given the erratic nature of his form. With 14 ranking event titles in total as well as a victory in the 2011 Masters, Ding is quite obviously the real deal, and it’s quite amazing that his enormous potential is yet to be fulfilled.
With the weight of expectation from tens of millions of Chinese fans on his shoulders, Ding’s frequent struggles with pressure have been understandable, but by capturing three trophies in his homeland during the 2013/14 campaign he seemed to have released an aura of invincibility. A nightmare couple of seasons after brought reality back into the equation, not least when he was forced to attend Ponds Forge to qualify in 2016 after dropping out of the top 16 in the world rankings.
But qualify with ease he did, duly embarking on his best ever run at the Crucible by reaching the final before being narrowly defeated 18-14 in a wonderful showdown with Mark Selby. In recent years, the Chinese number one’s main problem has continued to be consistency, highlighted this season with a remarkable UK Championship performance that was sandwiched by awful periods of form either side of his outstanding triumph in York.
Ding is 33 years-old, which in snooker terms is still quite young. However, the player at number one on this list will testify that time doesn’t always yield the predicted accolades.
Crucible Record: Final – 2016, Semi-Final – 2011, 2017
1 – Jimmy White
There was only ever going to be one name in the top spot, and it confuses me how anybody can have this list finishing in any other fashion. Burdened with being attributed the best player who never won the World Championship is Jimmy White, the People’s Champion.
Not many are unaware of the story of the “Whirlwind”, one of the most popular British sportsmen of all time. White’s career has been a glorious one.
He was the world amateur champion in 1980 before proceeding to collect ten ranking event titles and countless invitationals, including the Masters on home turf in London. However, his legacy will forever be tainted by his record at the Crucible. Six finals, six defeats.
That he contested this many – five in a row between 1990 and 1994 – is a testament to how good a player he was, but a mixture of bad fortune and poor preparation led to him never adding the holy grail to his glittering collection of accolades. Some hurt more than others.
He was the favourite to beat John Parrott in 1991 but never recovered from losing the opening seven frames, and the following year he was 14-8 up on regular rival Stephen Hendry, only to lose the next ten frames in a row.
Perhaps most agonising was his last chance in 1994, when on his birthday he missed a routine black off the spot in the decider at 17-17 to allow Hendry, the bane of his career for a fourth time, in for another crushing defeat. White, forever gracious, joked in the immediate aftermath that the Scot was “beginning to annoy me.”
Always adored by his legion of fans, White, at 58, still believes in his ability, but he was defeated in the qualifiers this year and has failed to make it back to snooker’s mecca in every edition since 2006.
Crucible Record: Final – 1984, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, Semi-Final – 1982, 1987, 1988, 1995
The 2020 World Snooker Championship gets under way on Friday, July 31st.
Featured photo credit: Monique Limbos