Recapitulation of the year 2006

SNOOKER REVIEW OF THE YEAR - 2006

Friday 22nd December 2006
www.skysports.com

2006 saw a second shock winner of the World Championship at the Crucible as this time Graeme Dott followed in Shaun Murphy's footsteps by winning a fairytale world title.

Dott edged out Peter Ebdon in the latest-finishing final in Crucible history, while the match also saw the longest frame ever played at the tournament, as the tension stretched on long into the night.

Despite many critics, Dott could not care less as he hoisted the trophy above his head, and the year saw many different tournament winners, as no one player could dominate.

John Higgins started the year off with a thrilling 10-9 Masters final victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan in the last match to be held at the Wembley Conference Centre.

The year ended with Peter Ebdon scooping the UK Championship title to become just the ninth man to win that and the world title - although the tournament will be most remembered for O'Sullivan's bizarre walkout against Stephen Hendry when he conceded his best of 17 quarter final trailing just 4-1.

Before Ronnie lost it he managed to maintain his stranglehold on the Premier League with a whitewash over his close friend Jimmy White in the final.

Neil Robertson was a shock winner of the Grand Prix, while Ding Junhui, Ken Doherty, Mark Williams and Stephen Lee shared the rest of the silverware.

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THE MASTERS

What a way to start 2006! John Higgins edged out Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-9 in an absolute thriller in the final of the Saga Insurance Masters. The world's most famous invitational event was taking place at Wembley Conference Centre for the final time and what better way to sign off from its spiritual home than with one of the best matches ever to be seen at the venue?

It was a real ding-dong battle between the Scotsman and defending champion O'Sullivan, who had to come from behind three times in the final session after originally leading 3-0 in the opening exchanges.

'The Rocket' eventually went ahead 9-8 but Higgins showed his true grit as he forced a final frame that looked to be going to O'Sullivan after he opened up with a break of 60, but he crucially let Higgins in.

The 'Wizard of Wishaw' then produced one of the finest breaks ever seen in the Masters, with his 64 under the most intense of pressures enough to claim the title for a second time.

Higgins had defeated Alan McManus and Shaun Murphy en route to the final, while he also put out Wembley favourite Jimmy White in the second round despite the crowd being desperate for 'The Whirlwind' to go all the way in his final appearance at the venue.

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MALTA CUP

Ken Doherty ended a long trophy drought by lifting the Malta Cup after staging a superb come back against the in-form John Higgins to prevail 9-8 in the final.

Masters champion Higgins had himself turned around a 5-2 deficit to be cruising at 8-5 and just a frame away from the title when Dubliner Doherty came storming back with four frames on the bounce to win 9-8.

It ended a five-year spell without a title for Doherty, with the 1997 world champion's previous trophy coming in the 2001 Thailand Masters.

The Malta Cup was added to the ranking events as snooker officials looked to put more tournaments on the schedule, but Ronnie O'Sullivan still missed the tournament.

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WELSH OPEN

Stephen Lee also ended a long wait for a trophy as he lifted the Welsh Open title after comfortably defeating world champion Shaun Murphy 9-4 in the final in Newport.

There were shocks right from the very start of the tournament as the big names tumbled at the first hurdle, with Stephen Maguire beaten by Mark Selby while Peter Ebdon was whitewashed 5-0 by Joe Swail.

The biggest shocks by far saw Ronnie O'Sullivan dumped out in his first match after Ian McCulloch hammered him 5-1, while Stephen Hendry also went early as he was ousted by Barry Hawkins.

Ken Doherty and John Higgins went out in the third round, to James Wattana and Anthony Hamilton respectively, as the big names continued to struggle.

World champion Murphy was doing well on his Welsh Open debut though, and he beat Hawkins 6-1 in the semis to book his final date with Lee, but the Wiltshire potter was too good and walked away with a welcome title.

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CHINA OPEN

The snooker world moved on to China at the end of March and the ultra-consistent John Higgins was back in the groove as he reached the third final out of four tournaments so far in 2006.
However, he was again on the receiving end of a narrow defeat, just as he was in Malta, as he went down 9-8 against Welshman Mark Williams in Beijing.

Another finely balanced final eventually went to the talented left-hander in the deciding frame as he too, following Ken Doherty and Stephen Lee, ended a long wait for a trophy.

Teenage home favourite and defending champion Ding Junhui nearly repeated his amazing success as he powered into the semi-finals before he was put out by eventual champion Williams 6-2.

For the second tournament running Ronnie O'Sullivan was dumped out in the first round, as he was given a 5-0 hiding by James Wattana, while the likes of Stephen Maguire and world champion Shaun Murphy also made early exits.

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WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

Graeme Dott sprung another surprise at the Crucible as he followed in Shaun Murphy's footsteps by winning the World Championship crown in Sheffield.

The Scot came out on top after a gruelling battle with Peter Ebdon as the two battle-hardened grinders went head-to-head in a marathon final.

Dott eventually triumphed 18-14 deep into the night as the two played out the longest final in Crucible history, which included the longest frame in history as they took 74 minutes to complete the 27th frame.

Dott had previously dumped Ronnie O'Sullivan out of the tournament in the semi-finals before completing another fairytale victory at the home of snooker.

The biggest shocks of the tournament came in the first round as seven-time champion Stephen Hendry was put out by Nigel Bond 10-9, while the in-form John Higgins was thumped 10-4 by Mark Selby.

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NORTHERN IRELAND TROPHY

Chinese superstar Ding Junhui was at it again as the 2006-07 season got underway at the Northern Ireland Trophy, which was included as a ranking tournament on the calendar.

The 19-year-old equalled Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins' feat of winning three ranking titles as a teenager as he added the Northern Ireland crown to the China Open and UK Championship he had already pocketed.

Ding rallied late on in the final at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast as he won three fames on the bounce to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-6 to win the first title of the new season.

Ding walked away with the £30,000 first prize and started the season in great style as he continues to grow in stature on the snooker circuit.

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POT BLACK CUP

Mark Williams landed the second edition of the Pot Black Cup since its return, and he made history by making only the third century break in the competition's history.

The Welsh potter joined Shaun Murphy and Eddie Charlton as the only men to have made centuries in the one-frame shoot-out held at the RAC Club on Pall Mall.

Facing John Higgins in the final, Williams came from behind with a stunning 119 clearance, the biggest break in Pot Black history, to land the £10,000 first prize and get his name on the trophy.

Williams also erased a 50-point deficit against Ken Doherty to win his semi-final, while he defeated last year's runner-up Murphy in his opening match.

Higgins ended defending champion Matthew Stevens' defence in the quarter-finals, while he comprehensively beat Peter Ebdon in the semis, but it was Williams' tournament as the left-hander landed the prize and a record break.

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PAUL HUNTER

October marked the real sad note of the snooker year as the talented Paul Hunter lost his brave battle against cancer and tragically died at the age of just 27.

The three-time Masters winner was diagnosed with cancer in March 2005 but had continued to try and play snooker at the same time as fighting the illness.

The flamboyant Leeds man had an army of fans and 'the David Beckham of snooker' was widely tipped to become a multiple world champion before illness cruelly intervened.

A hugely likable figure, Hunter will be sorely missed not just by his wife Lindsey and young daughter Evie Rose, but by the world of snooker, which has been robbed of an immense talent.

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GRAND PRIX

The 2006 Grand Prix saw a brand new system introduced as the tournament was also moved to a new venue - at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre.

For the first time a new round-robin stage was introduced instead of the normal first round, with eight groups of six players all battling for a place in the knockout draw.

All the top stars were involved and some shock results cropped up as each player played five quick-fire matches with the top two in each group progressing.

World Champion Graeme Dott did not like the format as he went out, while the likes of Ding Junhui, Peter Ebdon, Stephen Hendry and Shaun Murphy all joined him in early exits.

It was a week of shocks as promising Australian left-hander Neil Robertson came away with the trophy after beating fellow surprise package Jamie Cope 9-5 in the final.

Robertson has always been talked about as a star of the future but, until Aberdeen, had not been able to show that in ranking tournaments.

The Aussie whacked Ronnie O'Sullivan en route to the final and was too good for Cope, who made great strides when making his first final.

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PREMIER LEAGUE

Ronnie O'Sullivan is proving unbeatable in the Premier League and he secured a third successive title with a 7-0 whitewash over Jimmy White in the 2006 final in Wythenshawe.

The Rocket topped the table again after the league format, as he remained unbeaten in his six matches by winning four and drawing two.

Second-placed Ding Junhui could not take his place in the semi-finals as he was away at the Asian Games, and Steve Davis benefited by making the final four despite finishing in fifth.

The Nugget was beaten by O'Sullivan 5-2 in the semis, while The Whirlwind rolled back the years to beat Crucible world champion Graeme Dott 5-4.

White never got into the game against his good mate in the final though, and could only sit an admire O'Sullivan as he won 7-0 to scoop a third Premier League title in a row, and a cheque for £79,000.

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UK CHAMPIONSHIP

Peter Ebdon added his name to a select band of players to have landed both major prizes in snooker as he claimed a first UK Championship title to add to his World Championship title.

The 2002 Crucible champion became just the ninth man to do the double as he beat an out-of-sorts Stephen Hendry 10-6 in the final at the Barbican Centre in York.

Dubai-based Ebdon had been in great form throughout the tournament but was not at his best in the final - although he was not required to operate at top level as Hendry capitulated in the evening session allowing Ebdon to grind out the result.

Hendry had been involved in the main talking point of the tournament, as Ronnie O'Sullivan amazingly walked out of their quarter-final clash in the first session.

Trailing just 4-1, The Rocket was frustrated by Hendry's clinical break-building and, after missing an attempted pot, simply shook his opponent's hand an left the arena after conceding the contest.

Although it was a hollow victory, seven-time world champion Hendry capitalised to make yet another final as he bounced back to form - but it looked like it was one match too far for the Scot.

Ebdon was at his fighting best and the emotional 36-year-old was overcome after adding his name to an elite group of double winners.

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