Ever since the leadership of the WBPSA (World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association) changed its course under the influence of Barry Hearn and Jason Ferguson, the structure of the main tour - the entirety of all professional tournaments counting towards the world ranking and qualification systems - changed drastically. There's more money, more tournaments, other formats and whatnot than only a decade ago, as well as an evergrowing stronger Chinese and ASEAN increase of players in the global scene, that used to call itself global but only consisting of 95%+ Irish, Scottish, Welsh and British players.
Back in the 80es Snooker was a hard occupation for any professional, as there were only a handful of tournaments available to earn money, with extraordinary prices missing for most, therefore pressuring the 'stars' to make money on the side by playing exhibitions, coaching and doing other events. This era changed with the introduction of colour TV and the duo of Steve Davis and Barry Hearn. With a new hype promoting coloured pictures and a new approach of playing 'the best possible' snooker instead of 'most entertaining snooker' changed the scene forever. Davis took more than 50% of the events he played, managed to build rivalries with the mega talents like Dennis Taylor or Alex 'The Hurricane' Higgins and created a public interest in the sport that crossed the borders of the UK.
In the 90es the more professional spirit grew and Davis was replaced by the young Scot Hendry - who himself took seven world ranking titles and dominated the scene for an entire decade, taking every thinkable record. The game was at a new level, which seemed to have reached a climax.
And yet, it was not. 1992 saw three youngsters entering the venues, namely John Higgins, Ronnie o'Sullivan and Mark J. Williams The trio started to challenge Hendrys everlasting grip on the professional circuit and finally managed to overthrow his dictatorship around 2000. The era of a single player dominating for more than five years was over, as more and more tournaments needed a new level of commitment to the sport, solid performances over months, which made it so much harder to just qualify for the world championships, let alone lifting the famous title in a given year. Even defending it - a thing of the past it seemed.
In between 1998 and 2005 the trio managed to take more than 75 of the world ranking titles and more than five WC trophies. That's how good Higgins, Williams and ROS were. But yet, even the trio couldn't be called the leading trio, the competition was just too strong - both Davis and Hendry still managed to take several (high ranked) titles, as well as the young elite surfacing - for instance Shaun Murphy (WC 2005), Neil Robertson (WC 2006) or Ding Junhui. It seemed there was a new trio.
Up until 2007, when Higgins took his third World Championship against a new face: Mark Selby, who came from nothing, but entered the finals of the Championship and almost brought down John Higgins. This was a knock on the door and a reminiscence of the old times - like when Hendry first stormed into the Sheffield's Crucible Theatre.
Selby, in the past five years, took three World Championships, ten full Ranking List Titles and a lot more invitationals and smaller tournaments, making him the de-facto tyrant of the professional circuit, a Davis or Hendry reborn. However, that's not all to Selby - he took his titles, the most important ones, against Ronnie o'Sullivan, the leader of 1992's infamous trio, as well as against John Higgins, the fourth most successful player in the history of the modern era. 1992 seemed to be fully replaced.
Even more so, when ROS announced his retirement twice, only to return to the World Championships, taking his fifth title nonetheless. Still, his reign seemed to be somewhat over, his struggle with his temperament seemed to be too much to overcome.
Meanwhile, Mark J Williams completely disappeared in the later stages of the game ever since 2008, his retirement seemed overdue, his fight wasn't to win a trophy, but to maintain a spot close to the Top16, not even struggling to be within the leading class of players.
John Higgins, having been always the most reliable player of 1992s trio, did better. He played well until 2010, when he got suspended in some minor drama involving the Sun and a fictional betting scandal, which he didn't report in time. After returning he faced a ton of early defeats in most tournaments, changed his cue, never came back. Then, out of thin air, he won his fourth WC title and regained his form somewhat. His 30th ranking title followed last year, meaning he was effectively the second best player in the history of the game.
To be fair, ROS overtook Higgins again later this year, but more to that later.
At the start of the 2017/2018 season John Higgins and Mark Williams both seriously considered stepping down and leaving the circuit, or at least thought about not taking the game as seriously as they did in the past - despite Higgins reaching the 2017 World Championship finale. Higgins' problem was the defeat dealt by Selby in this very stage of the tournament: Having had a huge lead on the first day, he still was beaten to a pulp by the new and old king. According to his statements, he took that as sign that a WC trophy would probably be impossible, with 42 years, he's just too old, as sad as it is.
This season exploded in terms of prize money and amount of touranments - more than ever. The competition harder than imaginable, every player needed to play everywhere, not only within the UK, but over in China and several European countries. Hard thing to do, even harder to win anything.
Ronnie o'Sullivan, the leader of 1992s trio, after often showing a meager performance, took this year by storm - five titles, among them some of the most important titles you can win. He mostly won the tournaments without spending much efforts, his opponents often seemed to be tired and not being able to do anything against the masterclass Sullivan can unleash. It was just crushing.
Surprisingly, Higgins and Williams did the very same: They crushed with an ongoing performance you last saw of them around the 2000s - three titles each.Williams went from #19 to #5 of the rankings in only 10 months, a feat nearly impossible for even the best of players.
Just two weeks ago the World Championships started, and despite all of the above, it seemed clear that Selby or Sullivan simply had to take it. Selby, because he thrives over long distances, Sullivan, because he is the greatest talent on the ciruit.
This sounds like a boring tournament, or at least one that had two favourites playing badly. Trust me, they didn't.
This year's world championship is for so many reasons the best in the past ten or even fifteen years. It saw a Quarter Finals being the repitition of this year's Masters Finals (a tournament featuring only the Top16), it saw so many great fights by the young class of players going up against the veterans.
Imagine a tournament in which you see things like NaDa vs. JD, Nal_rA vs. Flash, or Boxer vs Larva, with all of them playing as good as they were/are in their prime - this was how the Crucible felt this year.
Last night the unthinkable happened: Both John Higgins and Mark Williams defeated their respective opponents in incredibly tense and exciting matches. Seriously, I haven't seen snooker being played at this level in so many games over so many days without any moment of boredom at all.
Last night's match of Williams vs. Hawkins saw balls trick shot world champions couldn't recreate easily. Not saying just "one" shot, but a handful of them in a match for 80.000 pounds in crucial moments.
If you have nothing better to do, watch the finals - it's probably going to be worth it big times, this is history in the making.