With the 2014 Masters about to start, this is a countdown of the 20 greatest moments in the history of the tournament, which began in 1975, selected by Dave Hendon. Today, we count down from 20 to 11.
(20) THE HURRICANE TURNS WEMBLEY AIR BLUE (1985)
Steve Davis may have been a Londoner but Alex Higgins, the original ‘people’s champion,’ carried with him an army of fans wherever he went, and Wembley was no exception. In 1985, a crowd of 2,692 were packed into the Conference Centre to witness a first round match between the world no.1 and the game’s star attraction.
Davis held a 13-2 head-to-head lead over Higgins but had only one Masters title to his name to the Hurricane’s two. It was an absorbing match which went the distance. Davis led the decider 53-0 but missed a mid-distance red, Higgins made 51 and won the safety battle on the blue before potting blue and pink to win 5-4.
In the moments following victory, Higgins turned to his now ecstatic supporters and exclaimed: “We’re f*cking back!” Never one to seek approval, in his autobiography he recalled: “I was fined £1,500 and given a dressing down. Water off a duck’s back as far as I was concerned.”
(19) MANS POTS MASTERS CROWN (1979)
Perrie Mans, a South African, was renowned as a great potter and proved what an asset this side of his game was by completing one of the Masters’s most unlikely triumphs.
In 1978, Mans reached the World Championship final at the Crucible, where Ray Reardon beat him, but his great run had seen him rocket up the rankings and thus earn an invite to the Masters.
Mans beat Cliff Thorburn 5-4 with a highest break of 48 and then Reardon 5-3 with one of 36 to reach the final against Alex Higgins, the defending champion and favourite to win again. Mans’ highest break here was 42 but he was again successful, 8-4, making him a Masters champion despite not having compiled a half century break the whole tournament.
(18) MOUNTJOY’S MAIDEN WIN (1977)
Doug Mountjoy is best remembered for winning the UK Championship for a second time ten years after his first success in the tournament but it was the Masters which launched him in the public mind as a top player.
Mountjoy turned professional after winning the 1976 world amateur title and was a late call-up for the 1977 Masters – his first professional tournament – after Eddie Charlton withdrew. Despite his inexperience at the top level, he defeated a trio of world champions – John Pulman, Fred Davis and Alex Higgins – before meeting another, Ray Reardon, in the final.
Down 6-5, Mountjoy made a 76 break before prevailing in a much closer decider to prove that his amateur pedigree had translated into considerable potential in the professional ranks. He also finished runner-up in 1985.
(17) O’SULLIVAN’S TEENAGE KICKS (1995)
The 1995 Masters marked its 20th anniversary with a final featuring two players who hadn’t been born when the event was first staged in 1975. Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins were only 19 but each had already won big titles with greater success to follow.
Many predicted a close match between two very different but very talented men, products both of the 1980s UK snooker boom. In fact, though Higgins won the opening frame, O’Sullivan was too hot to handle, forging 6-1 ahead.
At 7-3, Higgins had an outside chance but O’Sullivan closed out victory by winning the next two frames. Both would be back, to grace the Masters and many other snooker stages as they became the two most successful players of the early part of the 21st century.
(16) DING WINS ALL ASIAN FINAL (2011)
When the Masters began in 1975 the idea of having a Chinese winner would have seemed absurd. Slowly, interest built in the 1980s and then exploded in 2005 when Ding Junhui beat Stephen Hendry to win the China Open in Beijing.
Ding played in the Masters as a 16 year-old wildcard and would suffer a career low moment when losing 10-3 to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2007 final. This seemed a distant memory, though, four years on when he faced Hong Kong’s Marco Fu in an all Asian final at Wembley Arena.
Ding was out of the blocks with a 120 break in the opening frame, led 6-2 at halftime and, after Fu had recovered to 6-4, won the 11th frame with the aid of a snooker on the pink, after which he pulled away to win 10-4.
(15) THORBURN’S WEMBLEY HAT-TRICK (1986)
Cliff Thorburn was one of snooker’s toughest characters having sprung from one of its toughest backgrounds – the North American cue sports sub culture where money, drugs, gambling and even guns were commonplace.
The Grinder won his first Masters crown in 1983 and a second in 1985. In 1986 he was in the final again and poised to become the first player to complete a hat-trick of titles. Standing in his way was Jimmy White, the 1984 champion, a favourite everywhere but especially in his native London.
This was classic tortoise v hare territory and, as in the fable, it was the methodical Thorburn who prevailed, winning the last three frames from 6-6 to secure a 9-6 victory and rubberstamp his reputation as the most successful non-British player of the 20th century.
(14) SELBY MASTERS O’SULLIVAN (2010)
Mark Selby won the Masters at his first attempt in 2008 and finished runner-up a year later. It was obvious the game’s leading invitation event appealed to the Leicester man and, sure enough, he was back in the final in 2010.
He faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, perhaps the most formidably talented player the game has ever seen but already beaten 9-8 from 8-5 up to Selby in the 2008 Welsh Open final. And again when the pressure came on, it was Selby who stood up to it. In a match which had featured five centuries (three from Selby, two from O’Sullivan) he trailed 9-6 but summoned an iron will he would display on many more occasions to win 10-9.
This was the match in which Selby secured his master of brinkmanship moniker. It was well earned.
(13) HENDRY’S MASTERS RECORD (1996)
Stephen Hendry first played in the Masters in 1989 and duly won the tournament. By 1993 he had won five Masters titles in a row and still not been beaten at Wembley, a record so remarkable that the then sponsors, Benson and Hedges, gave him the trophy to keep.
As the 1990s wore on, the attacking age of snooker Hendry had heralded introduced more champions to the roster but in 1996 he appeared in his seventh Masters final in eight years against one of the main threats to his era of dominance, Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The match predictably produced a barrage of big breaks – three centuries and ten half centuries – before Hendry won 10-5, landing a sixth Masters title, a record which, like so many of his, still stands.
(12) HUNTER’S PLAN B (2001)
Paul Hunter loved life and loved snooker but took neither too seriously. Down 6-2 to Fergal O’Brien at the halfway stage of the 2001 Masters final he returned to his hotel with girlfriend (and later wife) Lyndsey with a couple of hours to kill. They filled this time by doing what young couples in love do and, refreshed and relaxed, Hunter returned for the evening session where he produced the best session of snooker of his career.
The first three frames were all close and though Hunter won two of them, he was still deep in trouble. Then came the big breaks – 129, 101, 136 and 132 – to lead 9-8. O’Brien forced the decider but Hunter had the momentum and, eventually, he had the title.
Of his hotel sojourn with Lyndsey, Hunter explained that as things hadn’t been going well he “put plan B into operation.” A star had been born.
(11) UNPLAYABLE O’SULLIVAN (2007)
The 2007 Masters had begun well for Ding Junhui, who made only the second Masters 147 in his first match, but what transpired in the final against Ronnie O’Sullivan left him so shell-shocked that he tried to concede it a frame early.
Ding had led 2-0 but O’Sullivan, focused and determined to make a point after his infamous York walk-out the previous month, fired in three centuries in the opening session as he built a 5-3 lead. There was no let-up when they resumed, a 143 total clearance the highlight as O’Sullivan produced the sort of sublime snooker of which he is uniquely capable.
It was a tough experience for the 19 year-old Ding and boorish sections of the Wembley crowd didn’t help. Trailing 9-3 at the interval, he’d had enough but was persuaded to continue, albeit for only one more frame. O’Sullivan displayed his better qualities by comforting his tearful opponent in the immediate aftermath of the rout.
Steve Davis, a three times Masters champion, summed up O’Sullivan’s performance best of all: “He was just unplayable.”
Tomorrow: counting down from 10 to 6...
Photographs by Monique Limbos.