Masters memories including title wins for Paul Hunter and Ronnie O'Sullivan and Kirk Stevens' 147 maximum break

Ronnie O'Sullivan misses this year's Masters
Ronnie O'Sullivan misses this year's Masters

Nick Metcalfe, Richard Mann and Ben Coley take a trip down memory lane as they pick out their favourite Masters moments ahead of this year's renewal which starts on Sunday.

Box office Stevens makes 147 maximum break (1984) - Nick Metcalfe

The Masters has always been pure show business. Sure, there'll never be a tournament as important or as special as the World Championship. But the Masters takes us down a different path somehow. It's just box office.

You have the best playing the best from start to finish. You have a raucous London crowd, in a special venue (well, nearly always - shall we just pretend Wembley Arena didn't happen?) And real history. It's 45 years and counting now that we've delighted in snooker's premier invitational event.

You can take your pick from a couple of dozen matches to illustrate what makes the Masters tick, but the one that usually comes first to my mind is the 1984 semi-final between Kirk Stevens and Jimmy White. Now that really did put the box right back into box office.

We all know everyone was a character in the eighties, and here were two stars that were right near the top of the charisma league.

Toronto against Tooting in north London. Both players in scintillating form, and the punters at Wembley Conference Centre - one of the finest venues in snooker history - treated to a classic.

The match was already decent enough after eight frames. Breaks of 59 and 73 helped White go 3-0 up, and after Stevens pulled two frames back, another run of 113 extended the Englishman's lead to 4-2. Stevens reduced that advantage to 4-3, but White edged a tight eighth frame to move within one of victory.

It was what happened in frames nine and ten that elevated the match to the status of seminal in the history of the tournament.

The maximum break still had a huge cachet in the Eighties. Steve Davis had made the first televised 147 in 1982, Cliff Thorburn the first at the Crucible in 1983. Now here was another breakthrough, courtesy of Stevens.

Seeing footage of the frame now reminds us what a different era it was in sports commentary. Periods of silence come as no surprise. The prospect of a maximum wasn't raised until the break reached 48, far later than it would be today. "So, that's six reds and six blacks," Rex Williams told us.

Alongside Williams in the commentary box was Jack Karnehm, who nine months earlier had famously wished Thorburn 'good luck, mate' in Sheffield. There were shades of that as the Stevens break neared the 100 mark: "I don't think we have seen any player with a better opportunity than this," Karnehm said. "The reds, the colours, beautifully placed. Let's just say good luck to him."

Stevens had tricky shots on the yellow and green, the first using a rest and the second sending the cue ball round the table to arrive on the brown. But nothing was to deny the Canadian. When he rolled the final black in, Karnehm could hardly contain his delight.

"Get in, lovely, super, oh that's really wonderful, just look at that, good heavens above Rex, isn't that marvellous?"

Kirk Stevens 147 vs Jimmy White (1984) - Benson & Hedges Masters

Stevens embraced White, raised his glass into the air in triumph, and took congratulations from a number of well-wishers that had piled down to his corner, Thorburn among them.

Tellingly, Karnehm added: "This young man of 25 years of age has achieved almost a miracle." Nothing could better illustrate how the maximum break was regarded a couple of generations ago. It really was the biggest of big deals.

Rather absurdly, the match was then halted for a presentation to take place. A chap from sponsors Benson & Hedges joked to Stevens about the special £10,000 prize, "I don't have the cash on me, but would you accept a deposit," before handing over what appeared to be a ten pound note.

The same man then told the now delirious crowd to "please spare a thought for the match in progress". It seemed a bit rich, all things considered.

So back to the table (light brown - very Masters) for a tenth frame that didn't feel like that much of an anticlimax, thanks to the devilish brilliance of White, who compiled a superb match winning break of 119.

Typically, he finished with a flourish, with banana shots on the pink and black. Stevens was banging the arm of his chair in appreciation, beaming with pleasure. Result: White 6 White Suit 4.

"Words escape me - just fantabulous," said Karnehm. "Two wonderful young men."

As if the whole thing wasn't magnificent enough already, television viewers were then treated to presenter David Icke - what did happen to that guy? - handing out champagne to the two players in the studio afterwards. "We haven't got any champagne glasses because you caught us out, but have a BBC water glass," Icke said. "On behalf of everyone, thanks very much for one of the greatest sessions in the history of the game."

A sporting Stevens said about White: "He's great, he pots from anywhere, once he gets in you might as well forget about it, light up a cigarette, sit back and enjoy."

White said: "I played brilliant. It was great snooker, I don't think there's been snooker like that in a short session before.' On his clinching 119, he added: 'I was probably buzzing through Kirk making the maximum, it probably helped me. I felt great when I was on about 30, I thought I was going to clear up."

Stevens came back the following day to talk through his 147 in detail during the BBC's coverage of the final, White returned to beat Terry Griffiths 9-5 for his first and only Masters title.

The rest of us are left with our memories, of an outstanding match at a tournament that nearly always delivers the goods. Roll on the 2020 edition.

New cue, new rival, same old Ronnie (2009) - Richard Mann

It wouldn't be the Masters without Ronnie O'Sullivan would it?

Well, just like in 2013, this year's renewal must survive without the sport's brightest star and instead, we are forced to get our O'Sullivan fix by looking back on some of the unforgettable Masters moments he has treated us to over the years.

The list is long, of course, but his victory in 2009 might well be one of the greatest achievements in a glorious career that has seen him widely recognised as the greatest player to ever grace the green baize.

Ronnie O'Sullivan winning the 2009 Masters
Ronnie O'Sullivan winning the 2009 Masters

What made this triumph so special - his fourth of seven Masters titles - was that a day before the tournament began O'Sullivan was forced to adopt a new cue having smashed his old one in frustration during a practice session.

Cue maker John Parris was tasked with preparing a replacement but O'Sullivan only had an hour's practice with it the day before he edged past Joe Perry 6-5 in a tense opening match that went down to the wire.

Nevertheless, O'Sullivan slowly but surely appeared to be getting to grips with the new cue, though he was unable to hide his dissatisfaction with it when pressed by the media and he asked Parris to source him some alternatives before opting to stick with the original replacement.

Comfortable defeats of Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire saw O'Sullivan move serenely to the final but awaiting him there was defending champion Mark Selby, a new major force in the sport and someone whose methodical style of play and penchant for producing gritty, battling displays was in stark contrast to O'Sullivan's free flowing, attacking style and thus, made him an obvious rival.

Furthermore, Selby was now firmly establishing himself as a genuine giant of the sport and with O'Sullivan keen to play down his own chances of winning the title while operating with with a cue he confessed to not being able to 'play certain shots' with.

The final would prove to be a classic, however, two brilliant snooker players at the top of their profession producing a high-quality affair that was worthy of this great event that has seen so many brilliant matches in the preceding and ensuing years.

Having taken the opening two frames of the afternoon session, O'Sullivan again looked to be struggling with his cue and an impressive response from Selby saw him win seven of the next 10 frames to lead 7-5 and apparently close in on victory.

The thing about Ronnie O'Sullivan, though, is that his undoubted genius has quite often needed that spark before it ignites and allows him to produce the snooker we always knew he was capable of but wouldn't always deliver in his early career.

When O'Sullivan won the World Championship in 2013, he had arrived at Sheffield following an exodus from the sport that meant he began the tournament having only played one match all season.

With the public and pundits alike predicting that such an absence from competitive action would be too much of a handicap to overcome, O'Sullivan was a man with a point to prove and he duly won his fifth world title at a canter, not losing a session throughout whole the event.

Back in 2009 and with a fourth Masters slipping away, O'Sullivan needed to overcome an even greater challenge, coming from behind to beat a rampant and top-class opponent, something that would need to be achieved with a cue he had little confidence in.

But such adversity spurred O'Sullivan on, an opportunity to see just what the limits were to his vast natural ability and what he could achieve when faced with a set of circumstances that would have beaten any other player.

When a silky run of 110 turned the match on its head and saw O'Sullivan inch into an 8-7 lead, those of us watching understood that we were witnessing a genius at work and though Selby rallied in typically dogged style to level the scores at 8-8, The Rocket was too strong, too classy, too b****y good.

A tense and closely contested frame 17 - one which Selby has made a fine career out of winning - was claimed on the black by O'Sullivan, whose rock-solid safety game had now been added to an already fearsome arsenal, and when he closed out the match with a nerveless break of 55 it was over.

Selby, gracious as ever, was first to congratulate a rival he would have any number of titanic battles with in the years to come but on this occasion, it was O'Sullivan who had prevailed, defying Selby, defying the odds and defying the cue.

As O'Sullivan said afterwards: "It's got to be my greatest achievement to win it with a new cue."

And we shouldn't be surprised to learn that he gave the cue to close friend and artist Damien Hirst not long after the final.

How very Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Hunter brings sexy back to claim maiden Masters title (2001) - Ben Coley

Snooker is a wonderful sport - if you're reading this, you don't need convincing of that - but it isn't exactly sexy.

That's not to say there isn't still a twinkle in the eye of Alan 'Angles' McManus, or that Barry Hawkins wasn't once a rapscallion about town. Captain Ali Carter might even have been the unsung hero of The Only Way Is Essex had he happened to have been born a decade and a half later.

Still, sexy it is not. Dimly-lit snooker halls, a little arithmetic, chalk and smoke... it would take the most creatively lurid of novelists to grow a romance here, even if words like cues, balls and extensions offer the easiest of opening reds.

But in 2001, a dazzling young man from Yorkshire thrust the sport into the limelight in a way that only he could. His name was Paul Hunter, and at the start of this century, The Masters belonged to him.

Masters 2001 Final - O'Brien vs Hunter - Frame 17

Hunter had long been considered the sort of superstar who could revive a sport still trying to figure out what it had lost since its 1980s heyday. Young, handsome, discernibly cheeky and grounded in his home county, he was dubbed 'The Beckham of the Baize' and played the game in his own image.

When he arrived at Wembley for his Masters debut, Hunter was not necessarily expected to end the week lifting a trophy which, today, is named in his honour.

Seeded 14, he was drawn to face defending champion and close friend Matthew Stevens in the first round, with Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry potentially standing in his way on undoubtedly the tougher side of the draw.

But this was a Masters of surprises, top to bottom, and after edging past Stevens, dominating against Peter Ebdon and holding firm to beat Hendry, Hunter was into the final, where he would face Ireland's Fergal O'Brien.

Things didn't go to plan and, trailing 6-2 after the first session, Hunter needed to break the cycle. And so, he and partner Lindsey headed to their hotel room and began a tradition: have sex, win title.

Hunter returned to produce some of the most dazzling snooker of his career, breaks of 129, 101, 136 and 132 helping him complete a fabulous turnaround, four of five centuries registered in a tournament where nobody else managed more than two.

"Sex was the last thing on my mind, I just wasn't in the mood" he reflected afterwards. "But I had to do something to break the tension. It was a quick session – around 10 minutes or so – but I felt great afterwards. She jumped in the bath, I had a kip and then played like a dream. I reeled off four centuries in six frames. I won easily."

The following year, he returned to pull off the same trick - only this time as the top seed. Wins over Stephen Lee, Ebdon, and McManus had him back in the final, where surely he would burst from the blocks this time around having learned his lesson.

Apparently not. Hunter in fact lost each of the first five frames, but again he rallied, this time rattling off the next five - with another one of those hotel breaks inbetween.

Williams gained his revenge the following year, but back came Hunter in 2004, beating David Gray, Williams, and John Higgins, before coming up against a player no less rampant himself - on the table at least - in O'Sullivan.

The Rocket led 3-1, 4-1, 5-1 and 6-1, before a 127 break from Hunter gave him some impetus to take with him to the interval. By now, there was no changing the formula. Well, at least not in a broad sense.

"In the breaks, we did exactly the same," he later confirmed to Brian Viner. "Well, different positions, like."

Ronnie extended his lead again upon resumption, but then came another stirring fightback. Breaks of 102, 109 and 110 took Hunter's tally of centuries in the tournament to six this time - again, nobody else managed as many as three - and he was champion once more.

And that is how Paul Hunter will be remembered by those who witnessed three of the greatest comebacks in the history of this tournament, which came over a dizzying four-year spell of outright sexiness, on and off the table.

Honest, charming, fiercely competitive and with the world at his feet, Hunter was everything snooker needed. And then, so cruelly, he was no longer here. In October 2006, Hunter died of cancer, leaving behind a wife and a daughter, and a hole in his sport.

Eventually, World Snooker came to name this trophy in his honour, and well they should have.

There have been spells of greater dominance in The Masters - Hendry won the title every year for half a decade, seldom coming under significant pressure - but the finest comebacks all belong to one man, who so desperately wanted to become world champion one day.

Surely, Paul Hunter would have gone on to achieve all that he dreamed of. He is sorely missed.


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