2014 HAS FEATURED many thrilling moments in the snooker world. Like any good soap opera there’s been drama, intrigue and controversy but also uplifting stories and great entertainment.
Here at Inside Snooker we will spend the days running into Christmas looking back at some of the highlights of the last 12 months…
SHOT OF THE YEAR
The shot of the year is an easy one, which seems an odd statement given the many hundreds of thousands that have been played.
How do you judge one fine pot from another? Well, context is everything. What are the stakes? What is on the line?
For Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Welsh Open final last February, victory seemed assured. He was leading Ding Junhui 8-3 and in to win the clinching frame. Titles are always to be celebrated but nothing has quite stirred O’Sullivan’s juices like a maximum break.
This dates back to his first at the Crucible in 1997, which he made it just five minutes, 20 seconds, a record that even he may never beat. There’s something about the atmosphere around a 147, the way the audience become involved, the way everyone’s heart beats that little bit faster.
O’Sullivan arrived in Newport tied with Stephen Hendry on 11 maximums compiled in professional competition. In the 12th frame of the final he had a good chance to beat this record but there was a problem: a red a few inches from the baulk line, just off the right hand side cushion. O’Sullivan of course needed to get back for the black to continue the maximum attempt.
Problem? He played a deep screw, left-handed, potting the red at an acute angle and obtaining perfect position. After that, the 147 was nailed on.
This one shot could serve as a microcosm of O’Sullivan’s career: audacious, show-stealing and embracing the pressure of the situation rather than shrinking from it.
It was brilliant.
BREAK OF THE YEAR
O’Sullivan made another 147 at the UK Championship in December, which contained more great artistry. There were many other breaks to relish during the year but, again, context is all and Mark Selby may never make a more important contribution than the clearance which gave him the World Championship title last May.
Selby’s Master of Brinkmanship crown is well earned. His rise to the top was marked by comebacks and close wins in high pressure matches. At the Crucible, he again needed all his powers of recovery after falling 8-3 and 10-5 adrift to O’Sullivan. Selby won the last two frames of the first day and was refreshed for battle as the final came down to the wire.
He forged ahead 17-14 but looked set to lose frame 32 when he trailed by 29 with one red and the colours remaining, a clearance unlikely with the green just off the top cushion.
Selby had a go at a long red and missed, leaving a thin cut to the green pocket. But O’Sullivan also missed and left a half chance, again to the green pocket, with cueing awkward over the green.
Holding steady, Selby potted it and was just able to see the potting angle on the black. Then came the key moment. Standing over the yellow, he knew he needed to get back up the table for the green and leave an angle to return to baulk for the brown. Selby was blessed with a rub of fortune all champions need. In potting the yellow, the cue ball brushed the blue and the little flick left him perfectly on the green.
Still, the pressure was on. Selby had never been world champion and there was no guarantee he would ever be in this position again.
He punched in the green with great confidence, stroked in the brown, got the rest out for the blue and was left needing two balls to join the pantheon of Crucible champions.
Whatever he was feeling inside, he controlled his emotions, slamming in the pink and leaving himself a black off its spot for glory. There was no prevarication, no cleaning of the cue ball or wiping his cue. He had every right to be nervous but just got down and knocked it in.
The break was only 35 but it was completed on the game’s greatest stage against its greatest star under the greatest pressure. Whatever else he achieves in the sport, Selby will never forget it.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.