We have reached that time of year again, as the final of the World Snooker Championship rapidly approaches at the Crucible.
The biggest match on the sport’s calendar has produced some memorable encounters in Sheffield through the years.
Here are our top five Crucible Finals…
5. Stephen Hendry 18-17 Jimmy White (1994)
This was the fourth and last installment of the great Hendry-White Crucible Final rivalry in the 1990s.
Hendry had won all three previous meetings and raced into an early 5-1 lead but, aiming to finally end the Sheffield hoodoo at the sixth attempt, White hit back with six consecutive frames to lead 7-5.
‘The Whirlwind’ maintained his two-frame cushion to hold an 11-9 advantage, but Hendry responded to overturn the deficit and pull away at 16-14.
White took two frames on the black to level at 16-16, before a break of 75 forced a decider after Hendry had moved to the brink of a fourth World title.
It appeared that the time had come for the people’s champion when he was in the balls, but a missed black off its spot saw his chance slip away. The Scot ruthlessly pounced on his opponent’s error with a 58 clearance to snatch the crown.
A gutted White joked in his post-match interview: “He’s beginning to annoy me!”
4. John Higgins 18-15 Judd Trump (2011)
It was experience against youth in the 2011 final.
John Higgins was searching for a fourth World title, while 21-year-old Judd Trump was making his debut in the sport’s biggest showpiece after wowing the Crucible crowd with his exciting brand of ‘Naughty Snooker’.
After being locked at 7-7 in a gripping contest, Trump won the last three frames of the first day to move 10-7 in front overnight.
However, Higgins showed his trademark tenacity to turn things around on day two, winning six of the first eight frames to go 13-12 ahead.
One of the greatest atmospheres in Crucible history welcomed the players into the arena for the final session, where the next six frames were shared as the Scotsman held a 16-15 lead.
Higgins then moved to the brink of victory but Trump, who beat the likes of Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui during his run to the Final, threatened to keep the match alive leading 61-0 in the next.
‘The Wizard’ produced a neat clearance to the blue, though, before laying the snooker he needed on the pink, which Trump could only hit at the second attempt, and a terrific double followed by a cool mid-range black wrapped up an emotional fourth success in Sheffield.
3. Shaun Murphy 15-18 Stuart Bingham (2015)
A close and exciting Final was expected in 2015 and good friends Shaun Murphy and Stuart Bingham did not disappoint, with a total of six centuries and a further 24 breaks over 50 between them.
Murphy, who lifted the trophy in 2005 and was runner-up four years later, had produced some magical snooker to get to a third final and made a flying start with breaks of 68, 59 and 65 giving him a 3-0 lead, but Bingham responded with runs of 105, 56 and 65 to level at 4-4.
‘The Magician’ then won a close ninth frame with a 74 clearance from 57-0 down, before rattling off back-to-back centuries on his way to an 8-4 advantage, but first-time Finalist Bingham replied again with 76, 123 and 89 moving him to within a frame of his opponent once more at 8-9.
‘Ballrun’, who beat Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump along the way, then turned the game on its head with seven of the first 10 frames on day two – aided by two breaks of 87, as well as 112 and 102 (going close to the first 147 in a Crucible Final with the former) – to lead 15-12, but Murphy hit back with 75 and 63 to level.
Crucially, a mammoth 31st frame that lasted 64 minutes went the way of Bingham, who was a 50/1 outsider at the start of the tournament, before runs of 55 and 88 closed out a very popular victory for the likeable Basildon cueist.
2. Stephen Hendry 17-18 Peter Ebdon (2002)
A repeat of the 1996 Final saw Hendry and Peter Ebdon lock horns again, with the latter out to avenge his 18-12 defeat from six years earlier.
Ebdon made the perfect start with runs of 65 and 100 giving him a 4-0 lead and, although Hendry responded with 126 and 116 to level, further breaks of 134 and 89 opened up a 10-6 overnight advantage.
Appearing in his ninth Final, Hendry hit back in trademark champion style, with runs of 104, 108 and 93 swinging the match in his favour at 14-12 in front.
However, back came Ebdon, who took five of the next seven frames with breaks of 103, 73, 111 and 85 moving him to to the brink of victory at 17-16 up.
He was three pots away from the title on a run of 51 in the next, but a missed black off its spot saw Hendry clear to the pink to force a decider.
Nevertheless, ‘the Force’ awakened and put a neat run of 59 together before narrowly missing match ball with a tricky red. He then played a wonderful escape from a snooker, before Hendry went in-off and allowed him to clinch the victory.
1. Steve Davis 17-18 Dennis Taylor (1985)
Steve Davis was heavily fancied to win a third straight World title – and fourth overall – during his dominance in the 1980s, and made the perfect start by racing into an 8-0 lead against world number 11 Dennis Taylor in the ’85 Final.
Davis looked good for 9-0 but missed a tricky green along the cushion, allowing Taylor to clear to register his first frame before taking six of the next seven to narrow the deficit to 9-7 overnight.
Taylor, donning a pair of oversized spectacles, continued his fightback as he stuck with Davis all the way before finally levelling at 17-17.
Fittingly, a 68-minute long deciding frame, watched by 18.5 million people, went right down to the wire, with Taylor responding from 62-44 behind by potting brown to pink before fractionally missing a double on the black.
The popular Irishman tried another double-cum-treble before missing a shot to the top right corner, but was handed another unexpected chance after Davis infamously overcut his attempt, which he knocked in before performing the winning celebration that will forever be etched in Snooker folklore.