As the year draws to a close, here’s our pick of the ten best matches of 2022…
10. Neil Robertson 5-3 Mark Williams. BetVictor English Open quarter-finals
The week in Brentwood started with a heating fault which left the arena in a seasonal chill, but the mercury was soon rising and by the quarter-final stage the star players were cooking up a feast for the Essex fans. This match produced a 147, four other centuries and three more breaks over 60 in the eight frames. Robertson set the tone with 73, 97 and 100 to go 3-0 up, before Williams hit back with a maximum in frame four. Robertson made a 102 for 4-1, then Williams responded with 67 and 123 to close to 4-3. Inevitably it finished with another century as Robertson sailed past the winning line with a 127. “There were hardly any unforced errors, both of us were really clinical,” said Robertson. “I guess the only difference was that I had him in a bit more trouble with my safety to force the errors. It was a brilliant match.”
9. Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 5-4 Judd Trump. BetVictor Scottish Open quarter-finals
We all love a respotted black and we all love a deciding frame, so on the rare occasions that those two come together, we are mesmerised. This match was close all the way, never more than one frame between them. Trump made six breaks over 50 (53, 104, 102, 52, 61 and 86), but could not shake off his opponent who made a 104 to level at 4-4. The decider came down to the colours. Trump missed the pink, Un-Nooh potted it to lead by seven points, but then left the black over a corner pocket, allowing Trump to tie the scores. After a brief safety tussle on the respot, Trump’s attempt to a baulk corner was inaccurate, and he left his opponent a simple chance. “I am still excited,” said Un-Nooh, “I’ve never beaten Judd before. I believe in myself and I can do it. I beat him today and I’m so happy.”
8. Mark Williams 6-5 John Higgins. Cazoo Masters quarter-finals
As the UK glimpsed the post-pandemic world there was a sense of restored freedom, and the fans at Alexandra Palace brought a new level of enthusiasm. Warhorses of the baize who have seen it all, even Higgins and Williams were left gaping in wonderment at the ovation they received at the start of this contest. And they rose to the occasion on the table in a classic contest. Higgins got the balls rolling with a break of 126 and soon went 2-0 up, before Williams fought back to lead 4-3 with a top run of 116. A break of 127 restored parity for Higgins and they traded the next two to leave the score at 5-5. Williams had the last word with a run of 91, but both players will remember the occasion as much as the result. Williams said: “I’ll never forget the atmosphere in there tonight. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.” And Higgins added: “I’m not even gutted because that was one of the best nights in my snooker career, I loved being out there.”
7. Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-9 Mark Williams. Cazoo Tour Championship quarter-finals
Williams lost no fewer than nine matches in deciding frames last season, and later admitted that this was the one that hurt most. O’Sullivan made five centuries during the contest and led for most of the day, but Williams held his ground and eventually made an excellent clearance in the 18th frame to take it to 9-9. A thrilling decider came down to the last red, Williams missing an attempted long pot and leaving O’Sullivan to clear for victory. “It is probably the best he has ever played against me and the best I’ve ever played against him. I was feeling the butterflies. It is impossible not to,” said O’Sullivan, who went on to make five more centuries during a 10-9 defeat against Neil Robertson in the semi-finals, a match which could easily have been included in this list.
6 Fan Zhengyi 10-9 Ronnie O’Sullivan. BetVictor European Masters final
The biggest shock in snooker history? It’s certainly in the conversation, especially given that Fan had previous reached just one ranking event quarter-final, and after this epic victory in Milton Keynes he would lose his next six consecutive matches. On this momentous night the 21-year-old, who started the week a 750-1 outsider, seemed completely unfazed by the challenge of playing snooker’s all-time greatest player in a ranking event final. He started the evening session with breaks of 135 and 110 to lead 6-4. Out-of-sorts O’Sullivan later came from 8-6 and 9-8 down to 9-9, but his failed attempt at a long pot early in the decider proved his last shot, as Fan compiled a fabulous run of 92. “Just playing Ronnie in the final was a dream come true. He is every Chinese player’s idol,” said Fan.
5. Neil Robertson 10-9 John Higgins. Cazoo Tour Championship final
So renowned is Higgins as one of the all-time great matchplayers, that viewers could not believe what they were watching as he crumbled in front of their eyes, letting slip a 9-4 advantage and losing the last six frames. Higgins was superb in the early stages, compiling three centuries and three more breaks over 60 in taking his 9-4 lead. Robertson himself scored two tons in the first session, then made runs of 54, 108, 72 and 93 in taking five frames in a row for 9-9. And a missed red to a top corner from Higgins early in the decider proved crucial as Robertson capitalised with 72 to take the £150,000 top prize. “I always believe that I can come back from any position,” said the Australian. “I feel for John, big time. He is such a fantastic person and a wonderful player.” Higgins added: “Every credit to Neil, he came back and put me under unbelievable pressure. I just didn’t stand up to it at the end.”
4. Jack Lisowski 13-12 Neil Robertson. Betfred World Championship last 16
Having won four titles during the 2021/22 season, Robertson was red-hot favourite when he arrived at the Crucible. And after a first round win against Ashley Hugill, he was widely expected to beat Lisowski, who had never reached the quarter-finals in Sheffield. But Jackpot struck gold with the best win of his career so far, in a tremendous battle which featured six centuries and 15 more breaks over 50. Robertson’s sequence of four frames in a row from 10-7 down included a magical 147, making him the eighth player to score a perfect break at the Crucible. But Lisowski stole the show, as a brilliant 72 clearance gave him the 24th frame for 12-12, and he got the better of an exciting decider. “It’s my biggest win because Neil is the best player in the world,” said Lisowski. “It was a great night for the fans, a big advert for snooker and it was amazing to be part of it.”
3. Marco Fu 6-5 John Higgins. Hong Kong Masters semi-finals
This event was a historic occasion for snooker, as it was the first professional tournament staged in Asia since 2019. And it broke new records for the sport’s biggest attendances, culminating in a crowd of 9,000 for the final. It seemed written in the stars that local hero Fu would reach the final, but no one could have predicted the manner of his astonishing victory over Higgins in the semis. It was a high quality contest from the start as Higgins made two centuries and three more breaks over 50, while his opponent scored four runs over 60 to leave the score at 5-5. Fu then joined an elite group of players to make a 147 in a deciding frame, his fans erupting in joy as he potted the final black. “I can’t believe what just happened there. It is impossible to do something like that,” said an elated Fu. “This is my best moment so far as a professional, to do that in front of my home crowd. It is the best thing I’ve ever achieved.”
2. Judd Trump 17-16 Mark Williams. Betfred World Championship semi-finals
We haven’t seen a deciding frame in the Crucible final since 2002, but the semi-finals have provided more than their fair share of dramatic finishes, with four matches settled by a 17-16 scoreline since 2019. This epic contest had the swings of momentum which only the long format can provide, as Trump held leads of 9-2 and 12-5, only for Williams to claw his way back. A break of 137 in frame 28 made it 14-14, and two frames later the Welshman made a 138, which equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of 16 centuries in a single Crucible campaign. Inevitably it came to a decider, and an early missed blue from Williams proved crucial as Trump made 49, then nursed his lead over the winning line, helped by a clever cross double on the penultimate red. “Most of the crowd were with Mark because they want to see a fight back and that makes it hard,” said Trump. “It’s a daunting atmosphere to play in when the crowd are against you, that’s why we see so many come backs here.”
1. Neil Robertson 6-5 Mark Williams. Cazoo Masters semi-finals
In a year which gave us so many great moments, this topped the lot. Just watch the deciding frame again and read what Theodore Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
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