The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
The 1999/2000 snooker season saw the sport head into the 21st century, and with it a new force began to dominate.
As if anybody had any doubts, Stephen Hendry’s victory in the 1999 World Championship reaffirmed his decade of dominance.
Only fellow Scot John Higgins managed to snatch away the world number one position from Hendry between 1990 and the turn of the millennium, but that was soon set to change.
As it happened, Hendry and Higgins were triumphant in the opening two ranking events of the 1999/2000 snooker season.
Hendry beat Peter Ebdon to claim the British Open not long after he had overcome Mark Williams to lift the Champions Cup trophy – an early incarnation of today’s Champion of Champions that incorporated a high-pressured, winner-takes-all prize fund.
Williams was the runner-up again at the Grand Prix in October, losing the last two frames to be denied in a decider by Higgins.
But even though he missed out on silverware in the beginning, this term would end up belonging to the Welshman.
Indeed, throughout the 1999/2000 snooker season the World Championship runner-up would feature in a staggering nine significant finals.
Sustained success was just around the corner, and Williams was ready to step up and accept his turn at representing the very best that the Class of ’92 had to offer.
At the UK Championship before Christmas, Williams gained revenge on Hendry in the last four before outlasting countryman Matthew Stevens 10-8 in the title decider.
During the second half of the campaign, it was almost unusual to not see him included among the last two contenders for glory.
Alongside Stevens, Dominic Dale, and Darren Morgan, Williams and his Welsh team failed to defend their Nations Cup title, losing to an English squad comprising Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jimmy White, John Parrott, and Stephen Lee.
Then not long after, the last four ranking tournaments all saw Williams on either the winning or losing side of the final.
At the Malta Grand Prix and again at the Scottish Open, he missed out on the winner’s cheque with heavy losses to Ken Doherty and Ronnie O’Sullivan respectively.
However, a 9-5 defeat of Hendry ensured victory in the Thailand Masters for the second successive year, and Williams headed to Sheffield as one of the big title favourites.
When Hendry and O’Sullivan crashed out in the opening round at the Crucible, the opportunity was potentially there for the 25 year-old to seize his moment.
The other member of the era’s Big Four was going to be an obvious obstacle to overcome, and so it proved as Williams and Higgins played out a titanic semi-final battle in Sheffield.
Higgins, who was still the world number one and had recently triumphed in the Welsh Open and Irish Masters, led 15-11 and was seemingly on his way back to the final.
But a remarkable comeback by Williams saw the “Welsh Potting Machine” win all six remaining frames – including a vital 30th on the black – to overcome Higgins at the same stage for consecutive years.
With Stevens his opponent in the final after a more routine victory over Joe Swail in the last four, it marked the first all-Welsh World Championship title decider and a repeat of their epic showdown in Bournemouth from late-November.
In the interim, Stevens withstood a late charge from Ken Doherty to capture the Masters under dramatic circumstances in London.
Although it probably represents the most notable achievement of his career, few really remember that Masters final in 2000 for Stevens.
Well, that wouldn’t be totally accurate, because the world number nine’s reaction – jaw-dropped in the ultimate shock – upon witnessing Doherty botch the last black for a maximum break will live long in the memory of many snooker fans that suffered the heartache in tandem with the Dubliner.
Stevens eventually recovered from his utter surprise and wrapped up a 10-8 victory over Doherty, who to his credit responded amazingly by proceeding to win in Malta the very next week on the calendar.
For Stevens, having already claimed the Scottish Masters as well, it was turning into quite the spell and the biggest prize of all loomed in Sheffield.
When he established a 13-7 advantage over Williams in the final, his destiny looked to be nailed on.
Unfortunately it was, but for all the wrong reasons, as not for the first time and definitely not for the last, Stevens crumbled under the pressure of the occasion with the winning line in reach.
Just like in the semi-finals, Williams bravely fought back with a never-say-die attitude.
After restoring parity at 14-14, Stevens fired in an incredible 120 to regain a lead that was to be short-lived.
Williams didn’t let the brief stand of defiance affect him, and he won four out of the last five frames to claim his maiden world title.
In victory, Williams became only the sixth player to hold the world number one ranking, and it was very much the era of the young snooker player as five out of the top six competitors on the official list were aged 25 or younger.
O’Sullivan, who had also triumphed in the China Open during the 1999/2000 snooker season, was watching his peers collect the most important silverware.
Yet, his time was imminent.
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