The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
By the 2000/01 snooker season, there was a golden generation of young stars who collectively masked the external cracks that were beginning to form.
Behind the scenes, there was political turmoil and a struggle for power that would create inner factions within the game.
Sometime around this period, the rumour mill was in full flow that a breakaway tour was in formation – in a similar fashion to how the darts world split several years beforehand.
Led in part by Stephen Hendry’s long-term manager Ian Doyle, it was proposed that there would be a new set of ranking tournaments and even a rival World Championship.
A public spat over control ensued, and snooker’s image as a credible sport took its first major hit of what would transpire to be many throughout a decade that would be mired in poor decision-making.
Despite countless promises, the renegade organisation was never able to get off the ground, and its failure to acquire the backing of marquee figure Ronnie O’Sullivan proved important.
By the end of the fiasco, the WPBSA had won – sort of – and thanks to the additional integral support of the BBC the professional game survived as a single entity.
Back then, the BBC aired four tournaments and its influence was so big that they were all referred to as majors.
The Triple Crown is a familiar, somewhat overused, term nowadays but in those days the Grand Prix was included in that category as well.
All four of these BBC events during the 2000/01 snooker season would be shared by arguably the four most exciting young talents of the era.
Mark Williams, fresh from his maiden World Championship success from May, beat Ronnie O’Sullivan to capture the Grand Prix in Telford.
Just over a month later, John Higgins got one over on the Welshman with a 10-4 triumph to capture the UK Championship crown.
At the Wembley Conference Centre in February, all three from the Class of ’92 were then surprisingly accounted for in the first round.
Instead, the final was to be contested between rising star Paul Hunter and Dubliner Fergal O’Brien.
Both players had won ranking titles and were by now mainstays of the top 16, but few expected a showdown for glory between the pair in London that year.
As it transpired, it became one of the most memorable and talked about title deciders in the sport’s history.
O’Brien established a commanding 6-2 cushion after the afternoon session only to sit and watch his opponent, buoyed by an energising interval, storm back to take the front.
Hunter brilliantly compiled four century breaks to overturn his deficit into a 9-8 lead, and even though O’Brien forced what materialised to be a dramatic and nervy decider, it was the beginning of a Masters love affair for the 22 year-old from Leeds as he completed a compelling 10-9 triumph.
Indeed, love played a pretty big role in his victory, as he enacted the infamous ‘Plan B’ with his girlfriend Lyndsey in their hotel while preparing for the final session.
Hunter, known as the ‘Beckham of the Baize’ for his blonde, boyish good looks akin to football star David Beckham, was just the poster boy that the sport needed in a time when interest and sponsorship – much more on that later – was fluctuating.
A few months later, the final BBC tournament took place with the usual season-ending World Championship bonanza.
By 2001, O’Sullivan had remained a consistent force and one of the best players in the world.
Yet, his return from the BBC ‘majors’ had dried up, with no silverware from any of the big four since 1997.
His inability to triumph in Sheffield was heaping further pressure onto his shoulders, especially considering contemporaries Higgins and Williams had already etched their names onto the trophy.
In 2001, however, it finally clicked into place for the “Rocket” at the Crucible Theatre.
After hammering Andy Hicks and Dave Harold in the first two rounds, O’Sullivan easily dismantled the challenge of Peter Ebdon in the last eight.
Joe Swail was an unexpected opponent in the last four, with the Northern Irishman making back-to-back semi-final appearances upon inflicting the ‘Curse of the Crucible’ on Mark Williams in round two.
The affable Swail put up a decent fight, but O’Sullivan coasted through to face John Higgins in his first World Championship final.
There, an opening session in which O’Sullivan orchestrated a 6-2 advantage proved to be pivotal in the overall outcome, as he managed his four-frame lead perfectly from then until the finish line to complete, finally, his destiny of becoming snooker’s world champion.
All in all, it had been a remarkable 2000/01 snooker season for the Englishman, having emerged victoriously from six tournaments in total.
This included the Irish Masters just before the World Championship, which after more than 20 years left the imposing Goffs in County Kildare for the first time.
The Citywest Hotel in Dublin was chosen as the blandest of replacement venues, but it did provide an epic final encounter with O’Sullivan pipping Stephen Hendry to a 9-8 glory.
A week after his World Championship achievement, O’Sullivan again beat Hendry to claim the Premier League – an invitational event he’d proceed to absolute dominate in the years to come.
Meanwhile, although slightly older than the likes of O’Sullivan and Hunter, Peter Ebdon and Ken Doherty were making sure that their names weren’t being forgotten from the conversation.
The latter almost completed a rare hat-trick of ranking event titles, narrowly missing out on winning the Scottish Open soon after he bagged a brace by conquering all before him in the Welsh Open and Thailand Masters.
Ebdon was the player to deny the Irishman in Aberdeen, and all the way back in the very first ranking event of the 2000/01 snooker season he also won the British Open at the expense of a rejuvenated Jimmy White.
In fact, it was all about to get even better for the Londoner.
There’s no doubt the BBC events stood out even more back then due to their being less events and no Chinese boom at that stage, but I still felt the Grand Prix, despite it being a fabulous event, was in the shade of the Triple Crown events.
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