Snooker: Amazing Davis targets the last four after turning on the old magic to shock Higgins

Memories of 1985 come flooding back as 52-year-old records greatest ever upset
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The Independent Online

Steve Davis is rolling back the years and rolling down the reds and blacks here. More than two decades after winning the last of his six World Championships, the evergreen 52-year-old is into the quarter-finals and fearing nobody after his stunning defeat of the defending champion, John Higgins.

Few, if any, gave Davis a chance of knocking out the Scot who, along with Ronnie O'Sullivan, came in as the favourite for the game's showpiece event. But they weren't reckoning on Davis and a steely competitiveness which evidently has not been dulled in the 21 years since he last lifted the crown.

In an epic which at the very least triggered the memories of his nail-obliterating success in the 1985 final against Dennis Taylor (which with 18.5m is still Britain's biggest post-midnight audience), Higgins fought back from 9-7 and then 11-9 down to level the second-round encounter. Davis, however, used all his experience to prevail 13-11 and so record perhaps the greatest shock in the 33 years of the World Championship.

Davis is the oldest player to make the last eight since 1983, when the 53-year-old Eddie Charlton ripped up convention. Tomorrow Davis will attempt to emulate the age-defying achievement of Fred Davis who incredibly made the semi-finals as a 64-year-old.

Davis faces the Australian Neil Robertson, the 28-year-old who was not even alive when his opponent first won the championship in 1981. Such was the old man's display against Higgins that many are tipping him to avenge his 10-2 drubbing at the hands of Robertson last year and so continue his dream trip back down memory baize.

For Davis, however, his progression so far is already the stuff of the wildest fantasies. He had to qualify for the tournament and the fact that he managed to was a surprise in itself. Davis appears mostly on the BBC as a pundit than a player and the part-timer clearly expected to be back in booth by now. That he isn't ranks alongside his Sheffield sextet.

"Obviously winning this event is massive but in terms of individual performances and pride of performance this win over John has got to be up there,'' said Davis, who last won a big title 13 years ago. "I always thought he was going to win the match – we've seen John pull it out of the fire so often. Yet somehow I dragged up some pots. It used up everything.''

"Until I potted the final pink and held myself together while I was shaking like a leaf, perhaps I didn't believe it was going to happen.

"I was wobbling like anything. It was awful. How it went in, I don't know. It's just ridiculous. I just cannot really believe that I played strongly enough to beat John.''

Half-joking, Higgins said of his childhood hero: "I hated him out there. I was looking at him, despising him, and hoping he would collapse or something. But at the end I wished him all the best.''

While Sheffield is abuzz at The Nugget's resurrection and is even talking of him going one better than Tom Watson, the golfer who at 59 lost in a play-off to Stewart Cink at last year's Open Championship, the veteran himself is not prepared to go there. "I am not looking that far,'' he said. "It is one round at a time, one frame at a time, one ball at a time It's just another match, that is the only way I can look at it. Neil smashed me up here last year. I don't want to look any further.''

Nevertheless his form here has convinced Davis that he may still have a future as a full-time player. He revealed that a message from a fan on his website helped him rediscover a touch the majority believed had been lost for ever.''

A gentleman emailed me and said I was moving my head on the shot, and he was right,'' he explained. "Sometimes you miss the obvious things and in the build-up all I've been doing is concentrating on keeping my head still. Under enough pressure other parts of your body move and perhaps your cue, and it's worked.''

Now he is turning every head, attracting headlines which will be much welcomed by his sport and in particular his long-time manager. Barry Hearn has recently taken over the running of the sport and is desperate for publicity. The loss of tobacco sponsorship and colourful characters has left snooker at a crossroads, but Davis' timely return to form could be the spark which fires the sport into the right direction this decade. Robertson certainly sees the value in the story.

"You can forget snooker altogether, Steve's a legend in sport in general,'' he said. "He's like Steve Redgrave or Alex Ferguson, he's had so much longevity in his sport and is still going strong. He's still competing at the top level, which is amazing considering all the stuff he does off the table as well with the BBC. He's a great ambassador.''

And Robertson knows he could become another famous victim. "If I take him lightly I will lose," he said. "The crowd will be so one-sided. For him to be able to pick himself up and beat the world number one the way he has, is absolutely amazing and an inspiration for anyone who thinks they're coming to the end of their career. Everyone will be watching. It'll be like an Olympian going for four golds." Actually, make that seven golds.

Davis' three decades at the World Championship

*Steve Davis has been one of the most successful players in the history of the World Championship since his debut in 1979, winning the title on six occasions – second only to Stephen Hendry.

Debut title at age of 23

After first round and quarter-final defeats, Davis won the tournament at his third attempt in 1981. An 18-12 victory over Welshman Doug Mountjoy made Davis the second youngest champion, securing £75,000 in prize money.

Black-ball finish with Taylor

A surprise first-round exit to Tony Knowles preceded consecutive titles for Davis in 1983 and 1984, beating Cliff Thorburn and Jimmy White respectively in the final. It was, however, the first of successive final defeats, against the colourful Dennis Taylor in 1985, that has become more revered. Davis raced into an 8-0 lead before Taylor recovered to 9-7 and levelled at 11-11. Frames were shared until 17-17. Davis overshot on the black, leaving Taylor a simple shot to secure the title in an after-midnight finish watched by 18.5m viewers.

Hat-trick precedes decline

After losing to Joe Johnson in the 1986 final, Davis proceeded to win three titles in succession to complete a decade of dominance, thrashing John Parrott 18-3 for his sixth, and to date last, title in 1989. Three semi-final defeats in five years at the start of the 1990s have been Davis' best displays at the Crucible since, with the 52-year-old failing to make it past the second round in all but two of the last 15 years, and failing to qualify for the event in 2001 and 2002. James Mariner


7......... Stephen Hendry

6......... Steve Davis, Ray Reardon

3......... John Spencer, John Higgins, Ronnie O'Sullivan