Crucible champions: Part two of Nick Metcalfe's look at World Snooker Championship winners

Nick Metcalfe's Crucible champions

Nick Metcalfe continues his look at past Crucible champions by taking us from Stephen Hendry through to Peter Ebdon.

Stephen Hendry (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999)

Many judges still believe Hendry is the greatest player of them all. There's no doubt he's the most successful player in Crucible history. In fact, his seven world titles in the nineties made him one of the finest winners in the history of British sport.

We knew from an early stage that Hendry would be special. He won his first ranking event, the Grand Prix in 1987, at the age of 18. And he was just 21 when he celebrated victory at the Crucible for the first time.

Hendry's first four world finals were all against Jimmy White - wins in 1990 and 1993 were fairly routine, but the 1992 and 1994 finals were epic. In 1992, he came from 14-8 down and claimed 10 frames in a row to win 18-14. Two years later, a Crucible classic for the ages went to a deciding frame, which Hendry pinched after White missed a black off its spot. Comfortable victories over Nigel Bond in 1995 and Peter Ebdon in 1996 then made it six world titles.

Hendry surprisingly lost in the 1997 final to Ken Doherty and in the first round to White a year later, but he bounced back to see off Mark Williams in the 1999 final for a seventh world crown. He later reached another final, losing 18-17 to Ebdon in 2002, and was still playing to a high standard when he surprisingly retired in 2012, having just been thrashed in a world quarter-final by Stephen Maguire. Hendry is now a forthright commentator and pundit with the BBC and ITV.

John Parrott (1991)

For some years, Parrott was right at the top of the game. He made his Crucible debut as a 19-year-old in 1984. And in 1989, he went all the way to the final. His first experience of the Sheffield showpiece wasn't a happy one however, as he was thrashed 18-3 by Steve Davis, losing with a session to spare. But that experience would serve him well two years later.

Parrott edged out Terry Griffiths 13-10 in a tight quarter-final at the 1991 tournament, before brilliantly beating Davis 16-10 in the last four. It was Parrott against White in the final, and the likeable Liverpudlian was just too good on that May Day weekend, winning 18-11. It was his finest hour. And it truly was a dream year for Parrott - later in 1991, he also won his only UK Championship title.

He never got as far as the semi-finals at the Crucible again in the rest of his career, playing there for the last time in 2007, before retiring a few years later. He is now an integral part of the BBC team at the triple crown events, and is something of a wider media personality too - for some years, he was a team captain on the BBC’s long-running quiz show A Question of Sport.

Ken Doherty (1997)

Doherty claimed his first ranking event in 1993, the Welsh Open, but one quarter-final in his four first Crucible appearances wasn't much to write home about. Then came 1997, a truly stellar year for the Irishman in Sheffield.

Doherty had already beaten Steve Davis and John Higgins before he easily dispatched Canadian Alain Robidoux 17-7 in the semi-finals. But now came the biggest test of all, against Hendry, who hadn't lost a match at the Crucible since 1991. Doherty was quite brilliant in the final however, winning 18-12 for a glorious success.

He was given a hero's welcome back in his hometown of Dublin. The city's Chief Superintendent told Doherty that Dublin's central police station didn't receive a single call on the last night of the final. That's the power of snooker, you see: it can even halt crime.

Doherty actually came the closest to defying the Crucible curse since Joe Johnson a decade before when he also reached the 1998 final, losing to Higgins. He was then runner-up in 2003, Mark Williams defying his spirited comeback to claim a narrow 18-16 victory. Doherty appeared at the Crucible as recently as 2014, and at the age of 50 he still plays on tour, while being a well-respected member of the BBC commentary team.

John Higgins (1998, 2007, 2009, 2011)

The first of the fabled Class of 92 - Higgins, Williams and Ronnie O'Sullivan - to claim the world title. Higgins was clearly destined for big things in the sport, having won his first ranking event as a 19-year-old, the Grand Prix in 1994.

He looked ominously good throughout the 1998 tournament. A superb 17-9 win over O'Sullivan in the semi-finals saw him through to the showpiece, and a meeting with Doherty, which he won 18-12. In the process, Higgins took over from Hendry as world number one.

It was then a major surprise when Higgins waited nine years to lift the trophy for a second time, beating Mark Selby 18-13 in the 2007 final. That set up a glorious few years for the Scot in Sheffield - he comfortably beat Shaun Murphy 18-9 to win the 2009 title and then showed all his experience to see off young pretender Judd Trump 18-15 in a thrilling 2011 final.

To his great credit, Higgins has continued to shine well into his forties, and rather remarkably, he has reached the last three world finals. They've all ended in painful defeats however, to Selby, Williams and Trump respectively. You'd be foolish to write off Higgins for the future - you suspect there's a fair bit of snooker life left in him yet.

Mark Williams (2000, 2003, 2018)

The silky smooth Welshman has always been a delight to watch. Here's someone who prefers to glide balls into the pockets. But his steel should never be underestimated either. Williams might not always be as heralded as Higgins or O'Sullivan, but he is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats.

Williams won his first ranking event at the age of 20, the 1996 Welsh Open, and then first reached the world final in 1999, losing 18-11 to Hendry. He went all the way 12 months later at the Crucible, his success in 2000 coming courtesy of two epic wins. First, he saw off Higgins 17-15 in a high quality semi-final, before coming from behind to beat Matthew Stevens 18-16 in the final. In 2003, Williams came out on top of the snooker world again, holding his nerve against Doherty to edge home in the final.

That really did look like his lot in terms of world titles, before a fairytale victory late in his career in 2018. Williams watched the 2017 tournament from a caravan, having failed to qualify, and he strongly considered retiring from snooker. But wife Joanne talked him out of that, and Williams enjoyed a fine season before turning it on in incredible fashion at the Crucible.

He beat Barry Hawkins 17-15 in an epic semi-final before taking part in what many see as the greatest world final of them all. Fuelled by kebabs and sweets, Williams edged to an 18-16 victory over Higgins, in a wonderful encounter. Fifteen years after his last Crucible success, he was king of the world again at the age of 43. He kept his promise to speak to the press without any clothes on, and has pretty much partied ever since.

Ronnie O'Sullivan (2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013)

Arguably the best snooker player of all time. Hendry may have more world titles, seven to O'Sullivan's five, but it's hard to believe anybody has ever played the game with more natural flare. The word genius, which should be used sparingly, is appropriate here. Plus there's the longevity factor - O'Sullivan won his first tournament in 1993 and his latest in 2019.

When you consider he claimed his first ranking event at the age of 17, the 1993 UK Championship, it was something of a surprise that he waited until 2001 for his first world title. O'Sullivan beat Higgins 18-14 in the final that year, for a win that many suspected would open the floodgates for more to follow. And O'Sullivan had it all his own way in his next three world finals, easily beating Graeme Dott in 2004, and Ali Carter in both 2008 and 2012.

His finest Sheffield triumph surely came in 2013 - O'Sullivan had taken the whole of the 2012/13 season off, only to return for the Crucible. He beat Barry Hawkins 18-12 in a final of tremendous quality, O’Sullivan firing in six centuries, for his fifth title.

Suddenly, O'Sullivan had Hendry's seven world crowns in his sights, but then came his most damaging defeat in Sheffield, in the 2014 final. He lost a lead to Selby - remember him smashing that pink to middle and missing? - and went down 18-14. He's never been close to the title since, even losing to an amateur player, James Cahill, in the first round last year. And he openly admits the tournament is much more endurance than enjoyment for him now. Still, it would take a brave person to say he definitely won't win another title in the years to come.

Peter Ebdon (2002)

Ebdon possibly doesn't always get the recognition and respect he deserves from outside snooker. The Englishman won his first ranking event, the Grand Prix, in 1993 and then reached his first world final in 1996. He had to give best to Hendry, losing 18-12, but six years later he ruled the snooker world.

It says so much about Ebdon's reserves of nerve and steel that both his semi-final and final in the 2002 tournament went all the way to a deciding frame. In the last four, he edged out Matthew Stevens 17-16, and then in the final he produced the gutsy snooker of his life to beat Hendry 18-17. That's still the last final to go all the way. The resilient Ebdon had contested 68 frames in the last five days of the tournament.

The Londoner also reached the showpiece again in 2006, when he took part in a final against Graeme Dott that gave a whole new meaning to the word gruelling. Ebdon went down to an 18-14 defeat, in a final that finished at nearly one o'clock in the morning.

The toughest of competitors, his grinding style has sometimes driven other players to distraction - remember O'Sullivan suffering in his chair in the 2005 quarter-finals? - but he is widely respected throughout the game. Ebdon, who turns 50 in August, last played in the World Championship in 2017 and is still on the main tour.

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