The Fountain #15, May 5th 1998

Wishaw Wizard Wins World Championship

Wishaw's John Higgins has made sure that when the name 'Higgins' is mentioned, people will say, "which one John or Alex?" By lifting the £220,000 Embassy world championship he has made sure his name is parallelled with that of his Irish namesake. He not only won the title, but also suprised many people, including myself, in the way he achieved his greatest ambition. I have always thought of John as a brilliant little player with a great action, but during the championships he displayed a grit and determination which the great grinder himself, Cliff Thorburn, would have been proud of. Even when he fell behind to Nottinghams Anthony Hamilton 6-2, he never seemed phased, just focused on the job in hand. The fact that he broke Stephen Hendry's record of 12 centuries during the championships, highlighted just how well he played during the two week long competition. I suppose I underestimated just what a great player John has grown up in to, from the time when we all used to sit around the score board monitor at the Blackpool qualifiers, when John was just a young kid laughing and joking with all the Scots lads, to this young man who has mastered his craft so meticulosly. I do not believe there is anyone in the game who works harder, or who deserves it more than John. He is every manager's dream, loves to practice and loves to be disciplined. In fact, many of the young players I used to watch at the qualification stages could do well in following this young man's example. It would now seem that John can only get stronger from this and next season he will surely be even harder to beat, because even though he probably thinks of his fellow countryman Stephen Hendry as the man to beat, I feel he rightly deserves to be the number one.

How wrong I was about Jimmy White, during my 'world championship preview'. I made the terrible mistake of saying Jimmy could not beat Stephen Hendry. I should have known better than to write off one of the founder members of the modern day game. However as much as I, and everyone else, wanted Jimmy to go on and win the title, I knew in my heart he could not be consistent enough to maintain the kind of form he did against Stephen. But full credit to Jimmy, he showed us all why people love him so much, and I wish above all wishes that one day he could do it. Against Hendry you could almost smell the magic atmosphere which Jimmy conjuered up. Hendry was like a frightened rabbit who was dazzled by the bright lights of the Crucible arena, and Jimmy duly ran him over like a speeding sportscar on a journey to glory. But it was not to be After punishing poor Darren Morgan, who to be honest had little fight in him, Jimmy's journey down snooker's road to glory foundered as quickly as it began against the Rocket, Ronnie O'Sullivan. My tip Ronnie seemed to be the man to beat, crushing all in his path. In fact, when he disposed of Jimmy so easily in the quarter final, I thought my forecast would come true. However Ronnie came face to face with the 'Wizard' who seemed to have him well and truly under his spell, especially during the incredible second session where he never won a frame. What happened to Ronnie during that second session I suppose only he knows. Maybe it is just that he is a volatile young man who's genius sometimes gets lost in his own emotions. Or perhaps he just had no answer the Higgins onslaught, and his frustrations got the better of him. Either way, as brilliant as he is, he needs to find the answers to achieve consistency.

Steve Davis really dissapointed me. After a dismal display in his second round match against Mark Williams, he gave a post match interview with the BBC, in which he said that he was going to play the next few seasons "with a lobotomy." This was to say that he thought the only way he could compete with players today, would be to not think about what he is doing. He said "Ronnie leaves his brain switched off when he plays." This I understand means that players, including Ronnie, seem not to worry about tactics and just pot balls. The latter may be true, but why should the game be made more difficult than it has too? If you can win by potting balls then you have no need to get bogged down in a tense safety battle. I thought that his remarks were insulting to other players and ill thought out. Steve is a legend in the sport and will stay that way, but there is no right way or wrong way to play, only winning counts. Steve is getting older and cannot be expected to play the way of the young players today. Indeed he seemed very frustrated during his match with Mark Williams. His ill chosen words during the interview may have been spurred on by the dissapointment of defeat, but he should try to avoid downgrading the accomplishments of his fellow professionals, as all pundits agree the standard these days is higher than ever before.

Ken Doherty showed he was a good champion by making it back to the final. In fact, I do not think he played badly, I think he played to a very high standard throughout his campaign. Higgins just produced his best when he needed it and Ken did fantastic to stay with him as well as he did. I think the best match Ken played was against Mark Williams. After being 6-2 up Mark Williams did brilliantly to not only level the match but take the lead. That is when Doherty showed his class by digging in and just reeling off four frames in a row when he needed it.

I thought young Mathew Stevens made his mark. After a patchy first round match he seemed to get stronger as he played. I am sure he will be a contender here one day. One of my tips to produce an upset in the first round, Quentin Hann, nearly pulled it off, losing 10-9 to Williams. Especially after smashing in to the pack at 9-9, on a break of 55 and coming out on nothing. It was one of the best matches of the first round, with lots of tension. It was a bit of a shame to see the icy hand shake which Mark Williams gave to Quentin, though. I know some of the crowd probably like it when players punch the air and scream out or bang the table when they win, but to their opponent this is known in the game as 'giving it to your opponent' This is to say that there is needle between the two players and the victorious one is rubbing salt in the wounds. Another example of this was the Drago/Burden match. Drago seemed to lose it, banging his fists on the table and shouting like a man possessed at some people in the audience. Young Alfie, who I must say performed very well on his debut, seemed quite upset at Drago's outburst, as they shook hands he gave Drago an icy stare.

Drago seemed more angry with his own game in his next match against John Parrott. At one point he smashed the pack up from behind on his break off. Something was obviously bothering Tony during the tournament. I hope he sorts his problems out as he is one of the game's characters and I love his attacking style. For John Parrott I think he again showed that he is truly a great player. For one of the older players, his consistency is fantastic. I do not know how he fits all of his TV work in and still finds enough time to practice. Mind you, he is the sort of player who could stop playing for three months, then get his cue out and make a century at his first attempt. Do you know that John did not start playing until his late teens, and within a couple of weeks he was making 50-60 breaks? I may be wrong, but I think he made his first century within six weeks (so the legend goes).

James Wattana dissapoints me more each year. For such a great talent he produces so little. The chances he threw away against Fergal O'Brien were numerous. I suppose he was a bit unlucky in one frame he needed to win the match, to go in off on the final black, but a player of his standard should have seen the in off and been a long way from the pocket. He also missed another easy black for the match in the green bag. Fergal was steady but James let himself and my accumulator down badly.

Mark King did well in his match against Nigel Bond, but he still seems to lack consistency. Overall his game is powerfull, but quite raw. This was highlighted in the scrappy performance against Matthew Stevens. This was a match that King should have won, especially as he is now a top sixteen player. In fact, he was the eighth highest points earner this season.

For those of you who were lucky enough to recieve the live BBC coverage of the championships, you must have been dissapointed by the crazy scheduling. The night Jimmy beat Hendry they showed the first two and a half frames live, and then with Jimmy still needing two frames, ended the broadcast until 11-15pm. Not so bad I hear you say. True, 11-15pm is not too late to sit up and wait for such a exciting climax, but then the dear old BBC started the highlights from the first frame again. This was madness. It was getting on for midnight before we got to see Jimmy's great victory. The same was true all the way through the championships. True, there was lots of hours of snooker, but hardly any live snooker. The viewing public love to watch live snooker. Most people these days have teletext, so they tend to get the results frame by frame, so when the highlights come on late at night, it spoils the action. The BBC will lose Snooker to Sky if they do not take on board how important it is to show as much 'live' action as possible.

Overall though it was a fantastic championship, and the standard of play was better than ever with more centuries than ever before. Next season will be eagerly anticipated with all eyes on Hendry's response to losing his number one status.

Please keep writing to me with all of your views and opinions as I love to hear what you think about my articles, good or bad.

Till next season

Richard Fountain ([email protected])

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The Fountain is a column written by Richard Fountain from England. He is an ex snooker coach and used to be the manager of Mark King. He will be writing to you throughout the snooker year and will try to give you all the inside info on this great game.

Please feel free to write him <[email protected]> with any questions you may have.