The 2020 Betfred World Championship will go down in history as one of the most gripping editions of snooker’s showpiece event, producing moments of magic, despair and ecstasy to a backdrop of both socially distant fans and an empty Crucible Theatre.
Millions of viewers around the world were transfixed by events over the last 17 days, as the Theatre of Dreams opened its doors for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Defending champion Judd Trump was welcomed by a limited Crucible crowd to kick proceedings off on day one. There was a stern early test for the Ace in the Pack, who edged through against Tom Ford 10-8.
The big story of the day came away from the baize. The tournament had been selected as a trial for the safe return of spectators at UK sporting events. However, after a successful first morning of the pilot, a midday announcement from UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, paused all trials and forced the event behind closed doors from day two onwards.
Qualifier Jamie Clarke recorded a stunning 10-8 upset win over 2018 Masters champion Mark Allen. The Llanelli cueman was staring down the barrel of tour relegation heading into the qualifying stages, but saved his place on the circuit by reaching the Crucible.
“Never in a million years could I have dreamed of this,” said the 25-year-old. “I went into the qualifiers without a lot of confidence, just hoping to win one match. After that I got on a roll. I am in shock at the moment. I went out there today to enjoy every minute and I was loving the experience.”
Ronnie O’Sullivan surged to the fastest win in Crucible history. He took just 108 minutes to demolish Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-1 with an average shot time of 14 seconds.
Scotland’s four-time World Champion John Higgins fired in the first 147 break to be made at the Crucible, since his compatriot Stephen Hendry crafted a perfect run against Stuart Bingham in 2012.
It was the tenth 147 break of Higgins’ career and landed him a £55,000 payout. However, having reached the last three World Championship finals, Higgins was dumped out of the event after a 13-11 defeat to Norwegian qualifier Kurt Maflin.
Maflin said: “It feels brilliant. My wife and kids will be proud of the fact that I’m in the quarter-finals. It makes it worth all the sacrifices.”
Anthony McGill battled from 8-2 down to beat Jamie Clarke 13-12 in a thrilling, yet ill-tempered encounter. A flash point came in the tenth frame, when McGill confronted Clarke, claiming he was standing in his eyeline.
In the mid-session interval, Clarke took to social media, tweeting: “You want to dance, let’s dance”. That Tweet came in the middle of a run of six consecutive frames from McGill, as he levelled at 8-8 en route to the dramatic victory.
Kyren Wilson inflicted the Crucible Curse on defending champion Judd Trump, sealing a momentous 13-9 victory over the world number one.
Trump became the 18th victim to fall foul of the curse, after failing to successfully defend the crown he won for the first time last year. Wilson enhanced his already strong record over rival Trump, extending his head-to-head lead to 8-5.
Wilson said: “I take a lot of motivation from the greats like Hendry, Davis, O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams. I can imagine they’d be thinking, ‘I want to beat this guy, I want to be better than this guy’. There is no point trying to dodge them. We’d never played each other at the Crucible, it was the one place I wanted to play Judd.”
Ronnie O’Sullivan conquered Mark Williams 13-10 in an enthralling match between two of snooker’s Class of 92. The Rocket fired in five centuries on his way to victory, but he had doubted that he had it in him to turn around a four-frame deficit.
“I felt as if I was fighting, it was tough,” said 44-year-old O’Sullivan. “At 8-4 Mark was cueing well, he was ripping through the ball. I didn’t think I had it in me to turn it around.”
The last four produced gripping and scintillating drama, after both semi-finals came down to deciding frames for the first time ever.
With the scores locked at 16-16, Kyren Wilson and Anthony McGill contested a nerve shredding decider. In commentary, seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry said: “This has been the most incredible frame ever seen at the Crucible.”
The players engaged in 61 minutes of gruelling snooker while amassing a combined total of 186 points, the highest ever for a single frame at the Crucible.
With McGill leading 52-47, Wilson laid a tricky snooker on the last red. Scotland’s McGill missed it ten times, leaving himself requiring snookers. Astonishingly, Wilson then went in-off twice to leave the frame back in the balance. Eventually Wilson fluked the green to once again leave McGill requiring snookers. Holding back the tears, the Warrior got himself over the line by the margin of 103-83.
In an emotional post-match interview, Wilson said: “I have dreamed of this moment for years but this isn’t the way I wanted it to happen with the green. It is mad what can happen on a snooker table.”
A disconsolate, but respectful McGill said: “I felt like it was stolen from me – not by Kyren, but by the snooker gods. I didn’t do much wrong there, but there has to be a loser.”
Meanwhile Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby locked horns at the Crucible for the first time since the 2014 world final, which Selby won 18-14.
Selby found himself on the verge of victory when he led 16-14. However, O’Sullivan, who adopted an all-out-attack approach, blitzed back into contention with a run of 276 unanswered points. That left him 64 ahead in the deciding frame. Selby had an opportunity to clear, but he broke down and O’Sullivan booked his spot in the final.
Awaiting both players was the return of a socially distanced Crucible audience, after a UK Government announcement restarted the pilot scheme for the safe return of audiences at sporting events.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, competing in his seventh World Championship final, went toe to toe with Kyren Wilson, who was competing in snooker’s biggest match for the first time.
After a tense opening day the outcome remained in the balance, with O’Sullivan emerging 10-7 ahead. However, the Rocket blitzed to victory on day two, claiming eight of the next nine frames to seal a historic sixth Crucible crown. That puts him level with his hero Steve Davis and former coach Ray Reardon.
The victory makes him the most prolific winner of ranking titles in history, moving him to 37 in total, one ahead of Stephen Hendry. At 44 years old, O’Sullivan becomes the oldest World Champion since Reardon lifted the famous trophy at the age of 45 in 1978. He now needs just one more world title to equal Hendry’s record of seven.
“If there was a box of achievements, there could be five or six in there, this has definitely got to be up there,” said the triumphant O’Sullivan.”To be alongside Ray Reardon and Steve Davis is amazing. There is still one fella sitting above us in Hendry. There is always someone to chase.”
Tournament Centuries: 79
Most Centuries: 12 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
Highest break: 147 – John Higgins
140+ Breaks: 3
Most Centuries by one player in a match: 5 – Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Allen
Longest Frame: 61 minutes 39 seconds – Kyren Wilson vs Anthony McGill
Deciding frames: 6 – Anthony McGill 10-9 Jack Lisowski, Ding Junhui 10-9 Mark King, Anthony McGill 13-12 Jamie Clarke, Mark Selby 13-12 Noppon Saengkham, Kyren Wilson 17-16 Anthony McGill, Ronnie O’Sullivan 17-16 Mark Selby
Crucible Debutants: 5 – Elliot Slessor, Jamie Clarke, Ashley Carty, Jordan Brown, Alexander Ursenbacher
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