As the years nears its end, here’s a look back at the best matches of the past 12 months…
10. Judd Trump 9-7 Ronnie O’Sullivan
Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open final
Trump has lifted the Alex Higgins Trophy for three years in a row – each time beating the same opponent by the same scoreline. This year’s final was a cracker, as O’Sullivan battled hard after slipping 4-1 behind, but could never quite get back on level terms. From 8-5 down, O’Sullivan made breaks of 93 and 74 to draw within a frame, but then broke down on 32 in frame 16 and Trump punished him with a match-winning 89. “I was wondering if I was even going to get a chance to win the match,” said Trump. “I made a brilliant clearance, it was up there with one of the best I’ve made.”
9. Kurt Maflin 13-11 John Higgins
Betfred World Championship second round
Any concerns that this year’s Crucible showdown could lack its usual intensity due to the absence of crowds were quickly dowsed with a series of dramatic matches over the first week. This last-16 battle was a classic as four-time champion Higgins tried to contain an underdog who, prior to this year, had never won a match in the final stages. Higgins had a 147 – his first at the Crucible – as he came from 7-4 down to lead 11-10. But it was Maflin, nicknamed the Viking, who plundered the last three frames with runs of 80, 75 and 63. Higgins said: “Kurt played amazing, to finish it the way he did. He bulldozed his way over the line. It was good to make a 147 but I’d swap that for a place in the quarter-finals.”
8. Judd Trump 9-8 Neil Robertson
Matchroom.Live English Open final
This blockbuster clash didn’t quite hit the peaks of their Champion of Champions final a year earlier, but it still oozed snooker of the highest quality. Trump came from 7-4 down to take four frames in a row, then Robertson made a 125, his third century of the match, for 8-8. Robertson played just one shot in the decider – the break-off – then sat in his chair as Trump made a 114. “Neil and I have a rivalry where we bring the best out of each other and put on great matches for the fans – hopefully we can have many more,” said Trump. Amen to that.
7. Judd Trump 6-5 Stephen Maguire
Players Championship semi-finals
Among the great strengths Trump has developed over the past two years is the knack of making crucial clearances at key moments. And one of his best came at the conclusion of this enthralling tie in Southport. Maguire had come from 3-0 down to lead 5-3, before Trump recovered to 5-5. Maguire looked to be cruising in the decider until he made a positional error on 49 and broke down. A do-or-die red to centre gave Trump his chance, and he picked off the remaining reds – moving two from side cushions – during a fantastic run of 70. “At 5-3 down I was gone, it was done and dusted,” he said. “But as I’ve grown older I’ve gained the self-belief to be able to really dig in under pressure.”
6. Mark Allen 9-8 Shaun Murphy
Tour Championship quarter-finals
This was the first ranking event staged after the initial UK lockdown but there were no signs of rustiness for Murphy as he made six centuries in this best-of-17 encounter, equalling a record set just three days earlier by Stephen Maguire. So Murphy must have been somewhat bemused as he registered the fact that he was out of the tournament. Breaks of 110, 117, 116, 100, 131 and 100 were rendered meaningless as Allen took most of the tighter frames and eventually won the decider with a run of 62 – helped by a fluked opening red. “I didn’t score heavily – Shaun made me look extremely average in that department,” said Allen. “It was just ultimate resolve that won it.”
5. Stuart Bingham 10-8 Ali Carter
The world’s top 16 will miss the warmth of the crowd next month when the Masters is played behind closed doors, a particular disappointment for Bingham who would have relished the chance to be greeted as defending champion by a full house at Alexandra Palace for the first time. The atmosphere for last season’s final was the best we witnessed in 2020, and the action on the table kept over 2,000 fans captivated. Carter came from 5-3 down to lead 7-5 with a top break of 133, then Bingham stormed back with 64, 85, 58 and 88 to go 9-7 up. Carter pulled one back with a 77, only for Bingham to capture the trophy with a superb 109. “How I put those five frames together to get over the line, I have no idea,” said Bingham. “Champions are champions for a reason.”
4. Ronnie O’Sullivan 17-16 Mark Selby
Betfred World Championship semi-finals
On another day this would have been lauded as one of the Crucible’s greatest ever matches – though in fact it was over-shadowed by an even more dramatic contest just a few hours earlier. Put together, the conclusion of this year’s semi-finals provided the most extraordinary day of snooker in Sheffield since 1985. From 13-9 down, O’Sullivan threw caution to the wind, attempting outlandish pots when he could have played safe, and escaping from snookers with cavalier power shots. Selby later described his opponent’s shot selection as “disrespectful.” But there were also moments of genius from O’Sullivan, notably the breaks of 138 and 71 which brought him from 16-14 down to 16-16. In the decider he played a brilliant escape from a tough snooker on the last red, and from the chance that followed he secured his place in the final. “I found some sort of magic towards the end, maybe from inspiration or desperation,” he said.
3. Neil Robertson 6-5 Mark Selby
888sport Champion of Champions semi-finals
“I’ve never seen a better best-of-11 match than this,” insisted Stephen Hendry in commentary for ITV4, and it was hard to argue. In terms of sheer excellence, this was the match of the year. There were six centuries – equalling the record for a best-of-11 – plus five more breaks over 50. Selby made runs of 70, 54, 81, 131, 137 and 137 while Robertson fired in 68, 100, 141, 121 and a vital 54 in the decider. “We both just enjoyed being out there, playing like that,” said Robertson. “We brought the best out of each other. I can’t really think of anything I missed and the centuries Mark was making were off really good long pots or fantastic safety shots to create chances.”
2. Neil Robertson 10-9 Judd Trump
Betway UK Championship final
These two masters of their art went head-to-head in three finals this year, Trump winning the first two, then Robertson gaining revenge when it mattered most. So engrossing was the conclusion of this epic encounter that over one million BBC viewers were still watching when it finished just before 1am. Throughout the day the players were never separated by more than one frame, though Robertson scored more heavily with three centuries. At 9-8 up, Trump had a match-winning opportunity, but a missed red on 48 was costly as his opponent made a fabulous 72 clearance. Fittingly, the decider came down to the last few balls. Trump was two pots from victory when he overcut the final pink, and Robertson clipped in the pink before gazing at the scoreboard to make sure it really was all over. “Both of us must have had ten times in the last frame where we thought we were going to win,” Robertson summarised. “It wasn’t the greatest quality, but sometimes finals are so bad they are good. We were missing pots that club players would have potted and fluking snookers out of snookers. Maybe people will be in the club tomorrow trying to replicate those shots.”
1. Kyren Wilson 17-16 Anthony McGill
Betfred World Championship semi-finals
The most exciting match of the year, and one of the most extraordinary deciding frames in snooker’s rich history. As it progressed, wizened Crucible veterans gawped at the screens backstage, wondering what could possibly happened next. At one stage the two players seemed to have invented a new game within a game, taking turns to bounce the cue ball off the baulk cushion to try to flick the last red into a centre pocket. That was after Wilson gained 43 points in fouls to leave his opponent needing snookers, then somehow contrived to go in-off twice. Eventually it was settled by another freakish moment as Wilson fluked the green during a safety exchange. He was on the verge of tears as he potted the last pink, completing the unique frame score of 103-83. “I have known Anthony since we were kids, and in the last frame we were just two young lads out there feeling the pressure,” said Wilson. “We fought so hard for three days, toe to toe, we both gave it everything. It was just the maddest match.” A gracious McGill smiled: “I feel as if the match was stolen from me – not by Kyren but by the snooker Gods. I really enjoyed the fight, it was played in the right spirit.”
We can only hope for more of the same in 2021.
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