The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
Much of the attention surrounding the busy 2018/19 snooker season revolved around Ronnie O’Sullivan’s pursuit of three massive milestones.
There were many fans and analysts who already regarded O’Sullivan as the game’s greatest ever, but Stephen Hendry still proudly held onto a lot of the most significant records.
O’Sullivan had already surpassed Hendry’s tons tally, but by accumulating five ranking titles in the previous term the Rocket had surged to 33 on the all-time list and a mere three behind his now retired rival.
And having won the 2017 UK Championship, the Englishman was additionally on a par with Hendry in terms of their respective victories in Triple Crown events, with 18.
Twelve months on and O’Sullivan was back in the final at the Barbican Centre in pursuit of a record-breaking seventh UK title, and a 19th Triple Crown success.
It had already been a more than decent start to the 2018/19 snooker season, with O’Sullivan triumphing in a Shanghai Masters that had been revamped as a prestigious invitational – beating Barry Hawkins in a close encounter, 11-9 – before becoming the Champion of Champions in Coventry for the third time in November.
Not long after that in York, O’Sullivan was dominant and won five out of his six encounters in reaching the final with 6-1 or 6-0 scorelines.
O’Sullivan’s challenger in the title-deciding contest was Mark Allen, who had backed up his Masters victory earlier that calendar year with victory in the lucrative International Championship.
A week after the UK Championship, Allen would proceed to claim the Scottish Open crown in Glasgow as well in what was undoubtedly the most prolific period of the Pistol’s career, but in between he was unable to stop O’Sullivan from writing his name once more into the history books, with this UK win coming 25 years after his maiden title at the same event in 1993 as a teenager.
Three months later, O’Sullivan featured in the finals of both the Players and Tour Championships, and on both occasions he battled Australia’s Neil Robertson.
The latter was likewise in fine form during the 2018/19 snooker season and had firmly put behind him the temporary blip of dropping outside the top 16 in the world rankings the campaign prior.
For the fourth time in six seasons Robertson won the opening tournament on the calendar, on this occasion beating Jack Lisowski to regain the Riga Masters trophy.
In the penultimate ranking event of the schedule, Robertson repeated the trick with an 11-4 downing of Lisowski to win a China Open that had been injected with a huge increase in prize month.
The £1 million overall fund and the £225,000 winner’s share underlined just how far the sport had come in the decade under Barry Hearn’s leadership.
Robertson’s double with O’Sullivan also came on the back of a recent glory in the Welsh Open, but at the Players and Tour Championships he could not live with a genius who had a date with destiny.
O’Sullivan won the Players Championship with a mesmorising 10-4 performance which fittingly concluded with a styling century break that represented his 1,000th in competitive play.
It was a 35th ranking title, and just two weeks later O’Sullivan equalled Hendry’s once unbeatable target with a closer 13-11 defeat of Robertson in Llandudno, in doing so usurping Mark Selby to end the Jester’s four-year reign at the top of the official world rankings list.
O’Sullivan was on top of the world in practically every sense, with one notable exception being at the Crucible where his struggles since 2014 continued, sensationally losing to amateur James Cahill in the first round of the 2019 World Championship.
Instead in Sheffield, it was the turn of one of his biggest rivals.
It had indeed been a memorable season for more than one reason for the five-time world champion, but two of his other headline losses came at the hands of a rapidly improving force in Judd Trump.
At the Northern Ireland Open, Trump overcame O’Sullivan in a close final, but it was his landmark victory over the Rocket in the Masters final at the Alexandra Palace, a venue that O’Sullivan had made his home, that truly elevated Trump from an immensely talented underachiever of sorts to a relentless winning machine.
Soon after capturing his second Triple Crown title, Trump triumphed in the World Grand Prix and later entered the season-ending World Championship as one of the heavy favourites.
In 2017, Trump had made a fool of himself by openly bragging about his chances of claiming a maiden world title in Sheffield, only to limply lose at the opening hurdle to Rory McLeod.
His fate at the 2019 World Snooker Championship almost followed a similar fate, but he just about eked his way beyond Snooker Shoot Out champion Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the last 32 with a 10-9 scoreline.
Thereafter, Trump proved to be an unstoppable force, sealing more comprehensive defeats of Ding Junhui, Stephen Maguire, and Gary Wilson to reach the final, where he produced arguably the most accomplished Crucible performance ever in a spectacular 18-9 victory over John Higgins – the Scot a runner-up for the third consecutive campaign at the Crucible.
Trump, who had been denied by Higgins at the same stage eight years earlier, compiled seven century breaks in the final to finally reach the heights that many knew he was capable of.
Elsewhere during the 2018/19 snooker season, Jimmy Robertson and Matthew Selt joined the illustrious club of ranking event winners with respective victories in the European Masters and the Indian Open.
Kyren Wilson and Stuart Bingham each enjoyed multiple wins too, with the former winning the last Paul Hunter Classic to be staged as a ranking tournament before following it up with additional success in Germany at the Tempodrom.
For Bingham, the 2015 world champion’s triumph in October’s English Open proved poignant on a number of levels, especially as it fell almost a year to the day after he was found guilty for betting on matches, which resulted in a six-month ban.
Three months were suspended, but it was enough for Bingham to miss the 2018 Masters, and although there was no suspicion of match-fixing his reputation was somewhat tarnished.
Match-fixing, however, did unfortunately remain prevalent with Chinese duo Yu Delu, who was described as “a scourge to the game of snooker”, and Cao Yupeng both handed lengthy bans for more serious misconducts around this period as well.
In 2020, snooker and the rest of sport would have a newer challenge to overcome, but more on that next time.
Featured photo credit: WST