Steve Davis Looks Back At His Stunning Masters Win Over O’Sullivan 25 Years Ago

In 1997, with a little help from a streaker, Davis, 39, roared back from 8-4 down to beat the emerging superstar
10:55, 07 Jan 2022

Steve Davis still believes his last major tournament win owed plenty to a streaker breaking Ronnie O’Sullivan’s concentration. The prestigious Masters event reserved exclusively for the invited cast of the world’s top 16 players gets under way at Alexandra Palace on Sunday.  

And the Rocket, bidding to extend his own record in the tournament by claiming an eighth success, opens up his campaign this year against the equally quickfire Jack Lisowski on Tuesday.  

But this month marks the 25th anniversary of one of snooker’s great moments as a then 39-year-old Davis roared back from 8-4 down to beat emerging 21-year-old superstar O’Sullivan 10-8.  

It was red-hot favourite O’Sullivan’s third Masters final in a row, having beaten John Higgins in 1995, and then lost to world No1 Stephen Hendry 12 months later. However, this was to be a glorious last hurrah for Davis, who had dominated the 1980s with six world title wins but not won a big tournament since the Welsh Open two years before.  

O’Sullivan started the final in brilliant form with back-to-back centuries at the old Wembley Conference Centre to lead 2-0 and leave the Nugget fearing it could become a rout.  

But then 22-year-old Lianne Crofts shed her clothes and leaped into the arena, appearing to shake O’Sullivan’s concentration and allowing Davis to claw his way back to 4-4 by the session’s end.  

Recalling that famous third frame, Davis – now 64, and a popular BBC pundit – said: “I had messed up a few shots at the beginning of that frame. I’d just played a safety and as I was walking back to the chair I was annoyed at being in a bad situation early on in the match.   

“All of a sudden I heard wolf whistles from the crowd and immediately realised what was happening. I was trying to keep myself together, so I didn’t even look up.   

“My line later was that I didn’t even see her face, let alone anything else! They bustled her off and only then I looked up and saw the security staff put a coat around her.  

 “In the aftermath there was a wonderful moment when Ronnie mopped the brow of referee John Street. That was brilliant, and great Ronnie had the comedy in him to do that.  

“But that moment seemed to break the spell of him playing brilliantly. Maybe it was just coincidence, maybe it wasn’t. But I could have ended those frames 7-1 behind.   

“It was a bit of a sliding doors moment in terms of the context of what happened. It was a light moment in the room, I managed to win the frame and I got inspired again afterwards.”

Despite the off-putting interruption O’Sullivan rediscovered his composure in the evening, rattling off four frames in 49 minutes to lead 8-4. But Davis just found something as he had so often in the past, winning a third frame in a row with a magnificent break of 130 to close to 8-7 down – and then powering over the line.  

Remembering his third Masters success, Davis said: “The juices were running and the person who comes from behind always has a little bit less pressure on them.   

“If we had played that final ten times, Ronnie probably would have won it nine and I would have won it once. The stars aligned for me on that occasion.  

“In 1997, Ronnie was possibly not quite the player he became. I was able to play a little bit of an old school, tactical game to make it as hard for him to score as possible.  

 “It was an absolutely wonderful moment in my career having had a pretty rough 1990s, it felt like it was coming to an end. That was the last event I won, and it was a great way to put the icing on my career in terms of tournament wins.”  

Davis continued playing until he finally hung up his cue at the 2016 World Championship 19 years later, though he was never in the winner’s circle for a major title after the age of 39. And he retains a huge respect for O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams who have carried on winning into their 40s.   

He said: “I think we were all aware of how talented Ronnie was, but the only part of the equation that people couldn’t have predicted was that he turned out to have a fantastic match temperament. We were all hoping and holding onto the idea he may be frail in that department, but he hardened up in the 2000s. 

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“All of a sudden it turned out that he was not just one the most jaw dropping snooker talents we’d ever seen, but that he was also rock solid in match play when needed. 

“Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams have proven that age barrier to not be true. Perhaps it was just me and Stephen that struggled a bit after the age of 40. Now it is obvious, that as long as you are in mental and physical shape to withstand the pressures of the career you can go on. 

“The interesting thing is how far can those three go on and push the barriers? I do think O’Sullivan is most likely, should he want, to win the World Championship in his 50s.” 

Heading into the Masters O’Sullivan is in his 30th season as a professional, having won more majors (20), Masters (seven) and ranking titles (38) than anyone in history. 

O'Sullivan is 5/1 to win the 2022 Masters with Betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware

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