Friday, 6 April 2012

Crucible Countdown: The story last year

Can you believe it's nearly 12 months ago since John Higgins stood tall in the Crucible lifting his fourth world title?

Doesn't time fly when the year is packed to the rafters with tournaments organised by Barry Hearn.

It's been an excellent season but the cherry on top is just around the corner.

While my Crucible Countdown will mostly look back to some of the older golden moments and ahead to this year's World Championship, it's important we don't forget the tournament's recent history.

For Higgins, last year's event was one of epic proportion. His 18-15 win against Judd Trump in the final secured him a fourth World Championship and propelled him up into the bracket of legends. He edged one title ahead of Ronnie O'Sullivan and now only Ray Reardon, Steve Davis and and the-time record holder, Stephen Hendry have won more.

Higgins joined a truly illustrious and I was among those lauding praise upon him. 

The mastery of Higgins was plain but the 2012 World Championship will also be remembered by many for how Trump dazzled. His outrageous attacking prowess stole the headlines and his fearless performances saw him become the latest in a line of Crucible favourites.

The fans were salivating over how good he was. He fancied himself to pot anyone off the table. Everyone left talking about Judd. A new star was born.

In the end though, Higgins was just too strong. He proved without doubt he was the ultimate match player. He was like granite from start to finish and hauled himself to the title through sheer determination.

This win was about more than just lifting the trophy though. It was about redemption. A year earlier he was embroiled in a News of the World front-page exclusive exposing him agreeing to match-fixing. Couple this revelation with the loss of his father and, it's an under-statement to suggest the year in build-up to the tournament was difficult for John. He overcame it all to reach the top of his sport again. That was a magnificent achievement.

The plaudits for Higgins were huge. Davis went as far as describing him as the "best player in snooker history".

This was to be debated at length. But what was universally agreed was that Higgins was a worthy winner as experience told.

The final produced fireworks on the table but there was more afterwards. Trump was high off his great run  and Higgins set his sights high, challenging himself to match Hendry's seven wins.

The final was a classic; the best in many years. It even got snooker trending on Twitter with a 6.4 million audience watching the BBC's concluding coverage.

Click here and here to read how I reported the end of the World Championship 12 months ago.

But this tournament was about more than just one match. It was packed with great moments and an impressive 74 centuries gave the crowd a treat, as did these great shots...

I said back then it was one of the best tournaments in many years, and I stick by that.

Barring the final, here are my favourite matches from the World Championship 2012...

Second round: Ding Junhui 13-12 Stuart Bingham

The Chinese star struck four frames on the bounce to steal this match on a decider from 12-9 down. This was the first time Ding had ever reached the quarter-finals of the tournament and a sure sign of his growing strength in character.

Second round: Mark Selby 13-4 Stephen Hendry

This was a sad day for Hendry as fans feared he may retire but a great match nonetheless. Selby became the first player in Crucible history to make six centuries in a single match.

First round: Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-2 Dominic Dale

After a season of struggle, the Rocket found his swagger again. He turned it on to cruise to victory and made his 100th Crucible century to boot.

First round: Judd Trump 10-8 Neil Robertson

Difficult to remember a better match on the opening day at the Crucible. The Crucible Curse struck again. Defending world champion was sent home early as China Open champion Trump proved he could transfer his form onto the biggest stage.

Quarter-final: Mark Williams  13-5 Mark Allen

The Welshman looked a cut above as he strolled to his first Crucible semi-final since he won the title in 2003.

Semi-final: Judd Trump 17-15 Ding Junhui

A match of amazing quality which was watched by 30 million people in China. Trump secured his place as the second youngest Crucible finalist behind Hendry in 1990. It could have gone either way. Ding would have beaten anyone but Trump in this form. A breathtaking match.

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