The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
The same could be said for every campaign but there were several different story arcs during the 2017/18 snooker season, so let’s just start right at the very beginning.
The previous term had been memorable in that long-time underachievers Anthony Hamilton, Mark King, and Liang Wenbo had finally joined the ranking event winner’s enclosure.
That left Ryan Day as the prime candidate for being the best competitor to have never won a ranking tournament, but the Welshman didn’t take much longer to set the record straight.
Day, 37 at the time, captured the season-opening Riga Masters in Latvia and towards the end of the season added the Gibraltar Open title and Romanian Masters invitational to his CV for good measure.
Soon after Riga, the China Championship was staged for the first time as a ranking event in Guangzhou, and once more there was a maiden champion with Belgium’s Luca Brecel emerging with the whopping £150,000 top prize.
Brecel overcame favourite Shaun Murphy to etch his name onto the trophy, the first of four ranking event title deciders that the Magician would lose during the 2017/18 snooker season.
Murphy lost the very next final too, suffering a 4-2 reverse against Michael White in the Paul Hunter Classic, and he would later lose two grandstand finales against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the UK and Players Championships.
There was, however, one moment of elation for the 2005 world champion in what was generally a spell of near misses – when Murphy beat the Rocket to claim the prestigious Champion of Champions title at the Ricoh Arena in November.
Like Murphy, O’Sullivan was a regular finalist during this campaign but the roles were often reversed, with the latter winning all of his ranking event showdowns for glory, additionally managing successes in the Shanghai Masters, English Open, and World Grand Prix to bring his tally for the season to five.
Although there were a record 20 ranking events staged during the 2017/18 snooker season, it was still an impressive feat that matched the previous best totals set by Stephen Hendry, Ding Junhui, and Mark Selby.
O’Sullivan’s only other blemish in a final came near the beginning when he was denied victory in the invitational Hong Kong Masters by Neil Robertson.
The Australian had endured a difficult year or so, and his failure to contend the latter stages of ranking events had sensationally put his place among the top 16 in the world rankings in jeopardy.
At the 2017 UK Championship, Robertson had to defend the £150,000 that he had won two years prior, but the Melbourne man succumbed to a shock first-round exit to Mark Joyce that saw his ranking plunge outside the elite bracket.
Robertson’s response was to win the very next tournament, the Scottish Open in Glasgow when he came from 8-4 down to deny Cao Yupeng in a decider, but the damage was done, and the former world number one’s failure to place inside the top 16 after York meant that he missed the cut-off point for qualification to the prestigious Masters.
In London in January, reigning champion O’Sullivan was the favourite again but ran into an inspired Mark Allen at the quarter-final stage.
Allen had been a professional for more than a decade and was widely celebrated as one of the game’s best players, but he didn’t have the big silverware to support this.
The Northern Irishman was a frequent champion on the now defunct PTC series and had accumulated a respectable three ranking victories, but it was a somewhat disappointing return for a player of his talent.
At the Alexandra Palace in 2018 it all came together at the right time, and buoyed by his downing of O’Sullivan the Pistol proceeded to beat John Higgins and Kyren Wilson to secure a maiden Triple Crown success.
Allen had earlier lost in the final of the International Championship to Mark Selby who, despite winning two ranking events in China which maintained his handsome buffer at the summit of the world rankings list, was in the midst of an indifferent spell of form.
Selby headed to Sheffield at the end of the 2017/18 snooker season on the back of a repeat triumph in the China Open, but his Crucible defence was over before it really began as he was thrashed 10-4 by Joe Perry in the first round.
Instead, it was another Mark who delivered again on the sport’s biggest stage.
When Mark Williams beat home favourite Thepchaiya Un-Nooh to win the Six Red World Championship in September, it seemed like nothing more than a small dent in his four-year barren run on the Main Tour.
Williams, once a dominant world number one, had been in and out of the world’s top 16 in recent years and even failed to qualify for the 2017 World Championship, frequently in interviews openly trampling on his own chances of regularly featuring at the business end of tournaments again.
But his success in Thailand triggered something in the old warhorse, and additional glory came soon after when he held off 17 year-old Yan Bingtao to claim an emotional Northern Ireland Open triumph in Belfast in which he dedicated the victory to his wife, who was suffering from illness at home.
It ended a six-year drought in ranking events, but it was not much longer than six weeks later that he was lifting another trophy aloft, this time becoming the first two-time champion of the German Masters at the Temprodrom.
Williams was back firmly among the top 16 and enjoyed seeded status for the Crucible, where he was considered as one of the dark horses.
After beating Jimmy Robertson, Robert Milkins, and Ali Carter to reach the last four, Williams encountered an opponent in Barry Hawkins who was incredibly featuring at the semi-final stage for a fifth time in six years.
An uncharacteristically nervy Williams scrambled over the winning line with a 17-15 victory, and awaiting him in the final was his old Class of ’92 rival, John Higgins.
Higgins was enjoying a decent campaign of his own, winning the Indian and Welsh Opens to move beyond Steve Davis on the all-time ranking event winners’ list.
A runner-up in the 2017 World Championship final, the Scot was again trying to bring his career tally of Crucible titles to five, and that he just came up short was definitely not for a want of trying.
In an epic encounter that is considered to be one of the greatest World Championship showdowns, Higgins produced a string of trademark clearances to always keep in touch, but despite staging a brilliant fight back from 15-10 behind to restore parity, the Wizard was never able to get his nose in front.
Williams, 15 years after his second and most recent success in Sheffield, held it together when it mattered the most and completed a memorable 18-16 victory.
Even more memorable, though, was the hilarious aftermath in which the Welshman lived up to a promise he made before the event that meant he’d have to undertake his press conference upon any unexpected victory at the Crucible in the buff.
During the 2017/18 snooker season, Williams, Higgins, and O’Sullivan had highlighted once more their enduring triumvirate in the game, and for the latter there was yet more limelight to be enjoyed during the next term.
There was also one sleeping giant who was yet to fulfill his obvious potential, but that special winning machine was set to become fine-tuned as well.
Featured photo credit: WST