WE CONTINUE OUR review of 2014 on the green baize by looking at the three best matches of the year…
For a match to be considered great it usually has to be close because although the quality in a one-sided encounter is to be admired, audiences love drama and the tension which comes from not knowing which way the contest will go.
Also, the further into an event, the higher the stakes. So our three choices for matches of the year are all from the business end of tournaments and represent close encounters of the snooker kind.
MARK SELBY 17-15 NEIL ROBERTSON (World Championship semi-final)
This was four sessions of excellent match-play snooker between two of the hardest competitors in the game. Both Selby and Robertson have strength in every department: break-building, long potting, safety, tactics and big match temperament. It felt like a final in itself.
The one drawback with the multi-session matches at the Crucible is that you sometimes get runaways which lack dramatic interest, but this was the opposite. Close all the way, it was a battle of two snooker warriors played over three exhausting days and provided riveting viewing.
In the end, Selby held up the stronger of the two, winning three of the four frames from the last interval, where the score stood at 14-14. In truth, though, if the match had carried on and was still being played now there would still probably only be a few frames between them.
The mental energy it took to win the match almost finished Selby off. He was subdued for the first day of the final against Ronnie O’Sullivan but was refreshed sufficiently to turn it round when it mattered.
MARK ALLEN 9-8 MARK WILLIAMS (International Championship semi-finals)
This was a high quality battle brimming with attractive snooker and heavy scoring. Its 17 frames included four centuries and 10 half century breaks. The average frame time was 13 minutes.
Allen had led 7-4 but looked certain to go 8-7 behind when he needed two snookers on the last red in frame 15. But Williams hit the black in escaping and Allen cleared, including a superb double on the final black.
To his credit, Williams shrugged off this disappointment and made an 86 break to force the decider. They each had chances before Williams missed the last red along the top cushion, letting Allen in for victory.
There was so much to savour about this match. The quality of the potting and break-building was remarkable but so too was the attitude of the two players. This was all-on-the-line, high stakes snooker. It was positive, uncompromising and supremely eye-catching.
It was also all the better for being best of 17 frames, giving time for more twists and turns to play out.
It was a battle of the left-handers, with Williams proving he is still a force and Allen exemplifying the fighting qualities of those Northern Irish snooker players who have gone before him.
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN 10-9 JUDD TRUMP (UK Championship final)
Few players are capable of reeling off frames in the manner in which O’Sullivan has done so often but Trump is in that category.
Blessed with the same instinctive talent for audacious shot-making, he made a stirring comeback in York that, though ultimately in vain, put the frighteners up the best front-runner in the sport.
A good if unspectacular first session left O’Sullivan leading 5-3 but when he held a 9-4 advantage the final looked as if it would fizzle out. Indeed, Trump seemed to think the same.
But when he won frame 14, it was clear something clicked. Trump’s form had been really good in general and it suddenly returned as breaks of 120, 127 and 86, made in an O’Sullivan-esque blur, narrowed the scores to just 9-8.
Trump then confirmed his big occasion credentials with a pressure clearance of 67 to force a decider. O’Sullivan afterwards said he had “gone” but, cometh the hour, cometh the champion and he pieced together a run of 51 to land the title.
It was a magnificent spectacle in the final of one of the game’s most prestigious events and once again proved snooker’s continuing capacity to entertain television audiences.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.