Graeme Dott finally captured the World Championship at close to 1am this morning after staggering across the line with an 18-14 win after an epic if rarely pretty battle with Peter Ebdon. The 28-year-old from Glasgow, who broke down in tears when he clinched the title, had led 11-5 in the morning and then 15-7 ahead of the last session but Ebdon, the steeliest of competitors, hung on to the end, putting the pair in the record books in the process.
The 27th frame of their match took a staggering 74 minutes and 8 seconds to complete, with Ebdon, on a storming comeback, emerging the victor in that particular tussle by a margin of 65 points to 59. The time eclipsed the previous record, from the final frame of Dennis Taylor v Steve Davis in 1985, by five minutes. It also meant yesterday's 27th was the longest televised frame in any professional event, anywhere, ever. For a contest that will be remembered for duration if not panache, it was appropriate. The final also smashed the record for the latest ever Crucible final finish, which was 12.19am, also in 1985.
Dott has had his share of lows in his career but when he awoke yesterday morning with an 11-5 lead, the ultimate high seemed within touching distance: a first tournament victory in 12 years as a professional, and in the biggest event of all.
After a 17-day marathon that slowed to a snail's pace amid a chorus of derision and snores on Sunday, the finishing line appeared in sight. The 28-year-old Glaswegian knew the trophy and a cheque for £200,000 was his to give away. And nobody had ever done that before when leading by such a margin on the concluding morning.
Dott could feel even more comfortable going into last night's concluding session 15-7 ahead, and needing only three frames from a possible 13 left. That's when Ebdon started coming back at him.
The 35-year-old, champion in 2002, rattled home a superb 117 the first century of the final in the evening's opener. He hit a 34 in the next and Dott responded with a 51 before missing a black. Ebdon came in and hit 32 for 15-9. When a green went in despite a kick, he twirled like a dancer in delight. He took the next with breaks of 17 and 34, for 15-10, and responded to a Dott break of 37 with a composed 66 for 15-11. Ebdon also edged the next, after a flurry of errors by both men before the mammoth 27th frame went his way too. So did the next, with a break of 84 in a shade over 11 minutes for 15-13, and six in a row to Ebdon.
Dott hit a 66 to stop the rot and go to 16-13, but Ebdon, aka Tungsten Man, won the next before a steely 68 clearance by Dott made it 17-14 and he edged the last to triumph.
Dott had won the first frame yesterday with a 56 break, for 12-5. Ebdon hit 78 for 12-6 and then 35 and 28 for 12-7. The 20th ebbed and flowed but Ebdon didn't flow enough and lost it. Dott hit 65 for 14-7, and snatched the next after some jiggery pokery on the final pink.
There is no getting away from the fact that this was not a glamorous final line-up for the fans or the new sponsors, 888.com, an online gambling company. They'd put the house on black and looked at times like coming up red-faced. It seemed snooker had given up tobacco only to wheeze through the first world final of the new era.
But it is worth remembering that much of the play in the supposed heydays of the 1980s was dull. Twenty-five minutes for a frame was normal. Eddie Charlton would lick his lips at a break of 30 and then stroll off for a metaphorical nap in baulk.
It's verging on heresy to say so, but most of "the greatest world final ever", when Taylor pipped Davis on the final black in 1985, was, like the first three sessions of this final, boring. It was the manner of the 1985 endgame, the excruciating last frame, the post-midnight finish and the huge sense of occasion that a sporting event could still achieve in an era before multi-channel television that made it. The snooker itself was tedious. But when a lot of homes still didn't have even four channels, let alone 400, free sport was almost always good sport, even when it wasn't.
In those days, genuine competition was also limited, with few players having a decent shout of consistently challenging. Even Davis yesterday said that the quality of today's snooker is "five times better than those days".
Rocketing standards have raised the bar considerably. The public expects 15-minute frames and regular 100-plus breaks. Often they get them. Sometimes, as in this final, they don't. But no-one can deny the drama arrived eventually.
World Championship Final (The Crucible, Sheffield): G Dott (Sco) bt P Ebdon (Eng) 18-14: 12-79, 62-53, 91-1, 70-48, 71-9, 32-67, 78-6, 53-20, 53-20, 63-16, 25-66, 6-124, 72-47, 51-65, 61-5, 16-92, 75-0, 0-100, 44-67, 75-41, 90-31, 70-49, 22-117, 51-66, 29-67, 38-70, 59-66, 0-84, 78-16, 17-99, 69-61, 71-30.
Go-slows, late shows and impossible comebacks
This year's finalists have taken flak for being slow. On Sunday they played only six frames in 200 minutes (including breaks) in the afternoon, and it was nearly 1am before the second session finished. But slow-burners at The Crucible are nothing new...
* THE LONGEST MATCH
The 1985 final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis. It lasted 890 minutes before Taylor won 18-17 on the final black.
* THE LONGEST FRAME
Came in the same match, with the decider clocked at 69 minutes (putting Dott v Ebdon's 48-minute frame on Sunday in the shade).
* THE LATEST FINAL FINISH
This was also 1985, when Taylor didn't wag his finger until 12.19am. The latest finish in any Crucible match was in the second round in 1983 when Cliff Thorburn finally sank Terry Griffiths 13-12 at 3.51am.
* THE SLOWEST FRAME
Thorburn was also responsible for the slowest frame in professional snooker, once clocking 92 minutes to win a qualifier.
* THE SLOWEST PLAYER
Generally regarded to be Australia's Robbie Foldvari in the late 1980s and early '90s. His average shot times were not measured then but experts agree he makes Ebdon (32 seconds a shot) look like Speedy Gonzalez on speed. Ebdon always faced an uphill task yesterday, starting 11-5 behind. No one had ever come back from such an overnight deficit.
* THE BEST COMEBACKS
From 10-6 down, by Shaun Murphy (2005) and Mark Williams (2000). Both ended with Matthew Stevens as the loser.