The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
Major headlines during the 2007/08 snooker season mostly originated from the same three sources – Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Maguire, and Mark Selby.
Indeed, the trio encountered each other several times in important fixtures over the course of the campaign.
Before we get to that, however, the outset of this term produced a pair of somewhat more unlikely winners.
In August, the players travelled to China for the inaugural Shanghai Masters – a tournament that would eventually grow to become one of the most important in the country.
Ding Junhui’s success in the previous couple of years had unleashed an explosion of interest in the vast nation, and more of his countrymen were beginning to graduate to the Main Tour.
It was important that the sport began to capitalise on the growing market, and so for the first time there were two ranking events staged in China within the same season – an early indication of what was to come.
The stage was set for a grandstand inaugural champion but few expected Dominic Dale to emerge as the winner – the Welshman beating Ryan Day 10-6 in the final to add to his similarly unexpected Grand Prix triumph from a decade before.
Dale took advantage of a relatively kind draw but his displays – compiling four centuries in the event including a magnificent 143 total clearance in the final – meant that he ultimately deserved it.
Known as the “Spaceman” for his eccentric personality, Dale has the unusual accolade of being the only two-time ranking event winner who has never been ranked inside the world’s top 16.
Two months later, the Grand Prix was staged in Aberdeen and another qualifier came through as the winner.
At this stage of his career, Marco Fu had been a ranking event finalist, World Championship semi-finalist, and was previously ranked inside the top 16.
The Hong Kong cueist had even beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams – then the world numbers one and two – en route to claiming the invitational Premier League title in 2003, but he lacked the consistency required to challenge the big guns on a regular basis.
At the 2007 Grand Prix, it finally all came together and a notable knockout-stage triumph over reigning world champion John Higgins helped him on his way to the final to face O’Sullivan.
For some reason, around that period Fu seemed to be one of the only players in the game who had an even record against the “Rocket” and, clearly unfazed, he got one over on O’Sullivan again with a 9-6 defeat of the Englishman.
O’Sullivan’s 2007/08 snooker season was only getting warmed up, though, and on the back of his now customary annual victory in the invitational Premier League he was in another final in Telford at the UK Championship.
Twelve months prior to that, he had caused a sensation in the same event by walking out of his quarter-final bout with Stephen Hendry when he was 4-1 down.
Controversy and O’Sullivan almost went hand-in-hand, and as is often still the case his love-hate relationship with the sport was a roller coaster of emotions.
But just as frequently as he was suffering with his inner demons, there was the sublime, the brilliance, and the magnificence that was attached to the talent he possessed.
Against Maguire, who had won the recent Northern Ireland Trophy, O’Sullivan thrashed the Scot 10-2 to claim a fourth UK crown of his career.
At the next ranking event, O’Sullivan again contested the title-deciding encounter when he met Selby in the final of the Welsh Open.
Having reached the World Championship final in 2007, Selby had elevated himself into the top 16 for the first time and with that came a maiden Masters appearance just before his trip to Wales.
The “Jester” is now widely known as the master of brinkmanship for his uncanny ability to pinch match victories from the jaws of defeat – a trait that was founded on gutsy performances akin to those produced in London and Newport.
In the Masters, Selby twice came from 5-3 behind to beat Stephens Hendry and Maguire 6-5 before a similar deciding-frame victory against Ken Doherty in the last four.
A subsequent 10-3 defeat of Stephen Lee in the final earned him his first Triple Crown honour, but his eclipsing of O’Sullivan several weeks later for a maiden ranking title in Wales was arguably just as important.
Selby trailed 8-5 but reeled off the last four frames in succession to complete a remarkable transformation and, in doing so, sow the seeds to what would blossom to become one of the sport’s most compelling rivalries throughout the following decade.
O’Sullivan’s run of finals didn’t continue in the penultimate ranking event of the 2007/08 snooker season – in fact, he lost in the first round – but that didn’t stop him from attracting the headlines again.
After another loss to bogey-man Fu in the last 32 of the China Open, O’Sullivan created a frenzy for lewd comments he made in his post-match press conference.
The China Open final was instead a grudge match between Maguire and Shaun Murphy, who weren’t the best of chums to say the least.
Several years earlier, Murphy played a role in his opponent receiving a docked frame after Maguire had forgotten his chalk and went out of the arena to retrieve it.
The Glaswegian didn’t forget, and having already compiled a maximum break in Beijing, Maguire edged a tense China Open finale to prevail 10-9 and claim a fourth ranking title.
Maguire, Selby, and O’Sullivan then headed to Sheffield as the clear favourites for glory in the 2008 World Snooker Championship.
Selby was the first to bite the dust, suffering a surprise 10-8 reverse against Mark King at the opening hurdle.
Maguire’s fate was sealed when he was denied in a dramatic last-eight tie with Joe Perry in a deciding frame.
With defending Crucible champion Higgins losing in the last 16, it was down to O’Sullivan to impress – and impress he did.
All the media attention surrounded his progress as per the norm, and after the incident in China there was always the expectation of another self-inflicted meltdown.
But the “Rocket” was never troubled, and after reaching the final with heavy defeats of Mark Williams and Stephen Hendry under his belt, a majestic O’Sullivan triumphed in Sheffield for a third time with an 18-8 thrashing of Ali Carter.
O’Sullivan and Carter had earlier made maximum breaks on consecutive days – the only time a brace has been compiled at the venue stages and the last occasion the famous £147,000 bonus for achieving it was dished out.
Having won the sport’s two biggest ranking events at the time, O’Sullivan duly returned to the number one spot in the world rankings list.
Elsewhere during the 2007/08 snooker season, there were a number of smaller events in which former world champion Ken Doherty seemed to always feature prominently in.
The Irishman reached the finals of the Paul Hunter Classic pro-am in Germany, named in honour of the Leeds potter who had recently passed away in tragic circumstances, and the Malta Cup, which had for years been a ranking event but lost its status for 2008 and wouldn’t be staged again thereafter.
Barry Pinches triumphed in Furth while Murphy made it back-to-back victories in Malta at Doherty’s expense, albeit the Dubliner did manage to claim silverware in the last ever Pot Black.
Originally a staple of British television in the 1970s and 1980s during snooker’s early boom years, Pot Black’s single-frame format was reinvented in 2005 but failed to capture the public’s imagination again.
Still, Doherty will be remembered as the last winner among a roll of honour that included the likes of Steve Davis, Jimmy White, and Ray Reardon.
A few years after the last Pot Black, single-frame snooker was reincarnated in the form of the controversial Shoot Out, but more on that later.
Featured photo credit: Monique Limbos