The year 2010 turned out to be the Sheffield swansong for one of snooker’s true greats, writes Annette Lord.
Six-times world champion Steve Davis received a series of standing ovations for reaching a landmark 30 years at the Crucible and rode the wave of good wishes to squeeze past Mark King 10-9 in a post-midnight first round thriller.
But not many people gave the then 52-year-old much hope in his next match – a best of 25 frames against John Higgins.
The Scot, already sure to be world number one for the 2010/11 season, had won the world title twice in the previous three years and was defending champion after beating Shaun Murphy 18-9 twelve months earlier.
Qualifier Davis, seeded 23rd, was considered well past his best and had failed to progress further than the first round in his previous three Sheffield outings, as well as winning only one ranking event match all season. Higgins had also prevailed in 22 of their past 26 meetings, having only lost once to Davis since 1996, making him a huge favourite with the bookies.
No one was expecting one of the biggest upsets in the 83-year history of the World Championship, but the former champ amazingly rolled back the years to secure a 13-11 victory.
Davis took the first frame and was never behind, constructing a break of 102 in the seventh to end the first session 6-2 ahead. Higgins clawed back to 9-7 the following afternoon with breaks of 78 and 106.
The Scot also took the first two on the resumption with efforts of 70 and 115 to level, in doing so becoming only the second player after Stephen Hendry to compile 100 century breaks at the Crucible.
But Davis took three of the next five frames to be 12-11 ahead and within touching distance of a famous victory.
Higgins was 43-1 ahead in the next but inexplicably missed a simple red to right middle and Davis held his nerve to put together a break of 33 to get himself back in the frame.
He also potted the last red and when Higgins gave him a chance at the yellow, he was able to sink it and the green but had to leave himself a double on the brown to the right middle. Puffing out his cheeks with the strain, he also attempted to cannon the blue on the left side cushion into a more potable position. It worked like a dream.
“Can you believe it?” Willie Thorne exclaimed in commentary. “That will be up there with the best shots he’s ever played in his career. Blue and pink for a most unbelievable victory. He’s got a straight pink to middle to do almost the unthinkable.”
Seconds later Davis sank the match ball and clutched his head in disbelief.
“That last frame was awesome,” said Thorne, barely audible over the din as the crowd erupted. “I don’t think I have seen a better last frame under pressure. Steve Davis has somehow rolled back the years and beaten one of the all time greats. He can’t believe it.”
Ken Doherty, alongside Thorne in the commentary box, added: “Fantastic, one of the best matches he’s ever played at the Crucible. And just look at the crowd, they’re as dumbstruck as he is. What a tremendous match.”
Davis’s epic win saw him become the oldest Crucible quarter finalist for 27 years.
His journey from the venue to the BBC studio at the nearby Winter Gardens was accompanied by a cheering crowd in scenes Davis likened to a golfer walking up to the 18th green after winning the Open at St Andrews.
“I can honestly say in my heart of hearts I never for one moment seriously believed I could beat him,” Davis said afterwards, putting his victory up there with his defeat of Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 1997 Masters final from 8-4 down.
“This is amazing, just amazing. When the pink went in and the realisation of what I’d done dawned it was the most incredible mixture of feelings – shock, emotion, disbelief. All the way through I was wondering whether I could get over the line and when I did it was fantastic.”
“I will always remember (the walk to the Winter Gardens) until the day I die,” continued Davis in his autobiography, Interesting. “This win was totally unexpected. As a result there is something very, very special about this day.”
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