There were some near misses, and I have chosen to leave out the superb comeback victory for a 39-year-old Steve Davis against a young Ronnie O’Sullivan in 1997 as that memorable showpiece was recently featured in the build-up to the 2022 tournament. So here are our top five greatest Masters finals.
No5 - 1991: Stephen Hendy comes back from the dead at Wembley to shatter Mike Hallett’s dreams
Stephen Hendry was going for a third Masters title in a row, and was a red-hot favourite to beat Mike Hallett. But the Scot found himself 7-0 down at the end of the afternoon session, and 8-2 behind in the evening before the Grimsby player missed a pink needing the last two colours for the match in frame 11. Hendry, who won the last seven frames for an incredible 9-8 win, said: “He had chances, but he was just getting more and more agitated. At 8-4, 8-5, I started to think that I could win. In terms of comebacks in my career, there's not been that many better than that from being so far behind - it's right up there.”
Hallett said afterwards: “I was two balls away from lifting the trophy, and after that I lost my discipline. It took me about six months to get over it. I was totally crushed.” And in a further cruel twist after getting home he discovered that his house had been burgled. In Hallett’s only other Masters final three years earlier, he was whitewashed 9-0 by Steve Davis.
No4 – 2004: Paul Hunter claims a third Masters crown in the ‘Hair-band’ final against the Rocket
The charismatic, popular and still much-missed Paul Hunter had already claimed two Masters titles with superb comebacks against Fergal O’Brien in 2001 and then Mark Williams in 2002, so Ronnie O’Sullivan had been warned. The sport’s two most glamorous players both appeared sporting flowing locks kept in place with hairbands, but attention soon switched to the wonderful spectacle they were producing on the table.
The Rocket led 7-2 at one point, but helped by five century breaks in the match the Leeds player hauled himself back level at 8-8. And though O’Sullivan edged in front again, ‘Houdini’ Hunter grabbed the last two frames for yet another dramatic Masters victory.
The famously laid-back Hunter said: “I knew I had it in me to come back because I have done it before and I felt I could do it again. Even when I was 6-1 down, I was still enjoying myself.” A philosophical O’Sullivan said: “I am disappointed but someone has to win and someone has to lose - and this time it was my turn to lose.”
No3 - 2010: Mark Selby roars back to pip fierce rival Ronnie O’Sullivan in a Wembley decider
Though Ronnie O’Sullivan had lifted this famous trophy seven times coming in to the 2022 renewal, some of the greatest finals in which he was involved saw him coming out on the wrong end of the result – and another one of those came against fierce rival Mark Selby in 2010.
There were lots of reasons why this was an especially sweet victory for the Leicester Jester at the Wembley Arena, picking up his second Masters trophy in three years. It was in fact a third Masters final in a row, having lost 10-8 to the Rocket 12 months previously, and so presented an excellent chance for revenge for that defeat.
Selby’s background as a former pool player performing in some pretty raucous venues meant he was one of those best capable of taking on O’Sullivan on his ‘home patch’ in front of some intimidating and partisan fans that almost filled the building. The different playing styles and personalities of the protagonists have made this one of snooker’s most compelling match-ups over the years.
But this was to be Selby’s night, as he came back from 9-6 down, holding his nerve superbly to win the last four frames for a 10-9 success.
Selby said: “That's the best final I've ever been in. The atmosphere is great when Ronnie O'Sullivan plays but I just dug in. I love the atmosphere, and seem to thrive on it.” O’Sullivan admitted: “I never got a look in the last four frames.”
No2 - John Higgins makes one of the sport’s greatest clearances in decider against Ronnie O’Sullivan
This was the last ever Masters match in the much-loved Wembley Conference Centre – and a superb final almost literally brought the house down before the bulldozers moved in. In a rollercoaster contest O’Sullivan went 3-0 up helped by magnificent breaks of 139 and 138. But Higgins responded superbly, first winning five frames in a row to lead 5-3 and then kicking on again for a 7-5 advantage. O’Sullivan levelled at 8-8 before edging in front, only for the Scot to force a decider that will live long in the memory. The Rocket was in first with 60 – but Higgins then cleared with 64 to take the title on the final black.
Higgins said: “"If somebody had asked me at the start of the week to script the tournament then I would have chosen to make a clearance like that to beat the best player in the world. I didn't feel nervous because if I'd missed at any time the match would have been over.”
Reflecting on the final years later, O’Sullivan said: “Losing to John Higgins 10-9 in the final of the Masters was my toughest loss. ‘That defeat was hard to take because I made a 60 in the last frame. I missed, then had another half-decent chance and missed that. You can’t give John Higgins a second chance, he’s a predator.”
No1 – Mark Williams edges out good friend Stephen Hendry in final-frame re-spotted black drama
Stephen Hendry was bidding to make it a magnificent seven Masters titles in the 1998 final, while Wales’s Mark Williams was looking to win the tournament for the first time. The Scot had appeared in charge almost throughout, leading 5-2 and then 9-6 – three up with four to play.
But the phlegmatic Williams has always had a nerve to stand up against the very strongest. He hauled himself back level at 9-9, and then trailing by 22 in the decider mopped up the last four colours to force a re-spotted black. With the crowd going crazy and both players at their wits’ end, Hendry missed a black close to the middle pocket, allowing Williams to snatch victory.
Williams said: “It was the tensest I’ve ever been in my life. My hands, arms, knees….my whole body was shaking, and I couldn’t control it. All I could do was rub my cue with my cloth, but how can you relax when there’s over 2,500 people going crazy? Coming back from 9-6 down is a complete blur – I must have been completely in the zone, because all I remember is the re-spotted black.”
Hendry said: “I threw the match away. Mark didn’t win the match – I gave it to him. Although the last black moved over slightly, I should have potted it.”