What’s your earliest memory of the World Championships?
The 1985 final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor. I can remember asking my mum to let me stay up to watch it. I was a big Davis fan – I still am – and really wanted him to win, and I was distraught when he missed that black. Of course, Dennis went on to pot it, as he’s fond of reminding us!
Who would you like to see win the title?
Barry Hawkins is going great guns and in the semi-finals. He’s a great bloke, I’d be so chuffed for him if he won it. I would have liked to have seen Willo do well, my mate Mark Williams, or Matthew Stevens or Stephen Maguire, but they all suffered the same fate as me. I’ve got a lot of good friends on tour, and some of these guys I’ve known since I was 12 or 13.
How soon do you think the World Championships will be held in China?
I like the history and romance of the Crucible, but money talks and if an offer came in that was big enough and good for the game, it would have to go. It would be a shame if it was never played there again, but I like Stephen Hendry’s idea of rotating it around different venues, with the proviso that it’s always held at the Crucible every three or four years. Just like they do with the Open golf championship.
Tell us something about the Crucible that we’d be surprised to learn?
There used to be this old lift backstage that took you up a floor to the players’ room. It was tiny, like a coffin, and could only fit two people in at a squeeze. If you were claustrophobic, it wasn’t for you.
If you were Barry Hearn for a day, what changes would you make to the World Championships?
It’s great as it is, I can’t fault it. The history, the longer matches – it’s all brilliant.
Can you sum up playing at the Crucible in three words?
Nervous, exciting, special.
Would this year’s tournament have been devalued if Ronnie O’Sullivan had not entered?
No, because that would be unfair on the tour. It takes more than one player to make a tournament. Saying that, having him back adds extra spice.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen at the World Championships?
I’ve seen it all at some stage! But I’d have to say … that lift!
Is the television coverage poorer for not having Clive Everton on the BBC commentary team?
Ooh, controversial. I’d say no, because it’s the players who make the tournament, not the commentators.
Who’s the greatest player to have never won the world title?
You have to say Jimmy White. There have been so many players down the years, but six finals speaks for itself.
What’s your best memory of the Crucible?
Not many, to be honest! This is not my best memory, but it’s certainly my most vivid: when I played my first-ever match there against Paul Hunter, just after he’d been diagnosed with cancer. That’s the one that sticks out the most, it was very surreal, and very sad.
Would you rather be a multiple ranking event winner or a one-time world champion?
World champion. To say you’ve got your name on that trophy, you could put your cue away forever and people would always remember you. Graeme Dott is a great example, and Joe Johnson too – if they never played another match in their lives they would always be on a different level because they won that trophy.
Are you in favour of next season’s calendar?
I’ve always said, all you want are opportunities. And if you don’t succeed, then you’ve only got yourself to blame. As long as it’s a level playing field, which it now is, then I’m happy. I remember when we were playing just six tournaments a year, that was horrible and no good for snooker. So yes, I’m all for it.
Can you see Stephen Hendry’s record of seven titles ever being beaten?
Yes, I can. I think only John Higgins or Ronnie O’Sullivan can do it, and it’s a question of whether or not they can still apply themselves to do it. You’re still young at 36, 37 and, unless your eyes go, the only reason players move backwards at that age is because they lose that drive to apply themselves. It’s a big ask though..
What would be your all-time dream final of previous champions?
O’Sullivan v Hendry. They’re both heavy scorers and they both go for everything. Hendry, in particular, used to go for shots that weren’t even there but, because he potted them all, it worked. Those two, with Mark Williams and John Higgins are, for me, the best four players ever. We saw the best snooker every played by them 10 years ago, much better than the top four now. They were scary good.
And who would win?
It would be the toss of a coin. You couldn’t pick a winner, it would come down to luck and how the balls were.
What would it mean to you to one day win the World Championship?
It would be a bit of a shock if I won it! It would mean everything, the prestige, the money and having your name on that trophy. Every child dreams of being world champion.
Who do you think is the favourite to win the title?
Ronnie O’Sullivan can win it, now that we’ve seen how well he’s playing. John Higgins has shown that you can have a lengthy spell out of the game and come back and win, so why not Ronnie.
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