He's no Freddie Ljungberg – he hasn't got the hair – but Peter Ebdon's Embassy World Championship win late on Monday night put Arsenal in the shade. Some seven million people were watching live on television at midnight as he secured the title with a nerve-racking 18-17 victory over Stephen Hendry, outstripping the viewing figures for this year's FA Cup final, which was shown at the prime sporting time of 3pm last Saturday. If snooker really is an endangered sport, as it increasingly seems on the verge of an age without tobacco sponsorship, then no one has informed the public.
As for Ebdon, whose world for 17 years has revolved around the biggest prize in the game, he spent yesterday returning to earth after a 48-hour excursion to fantasy land. "I've been on a different planet for the last two days," said the 31-year-old from Wellingborough, as his achievement started to sink in.
The victory capped a climactic few days that almost saw him lose in the semi-final to Matthew Stevens but recover to win 17-16. The final was more dramatic still, falling level at 17-17 after Ebdon had missed a straightforward black to let the seven-times champion Hendry take it to the wire.
"I really did think I'd blown it at the end there with the black I missed," Ebdon said. "I didn't even concentrate on it properly. It was unforgivable really. Then I fully expected the couple of chances Stephen had in the last frame to be taken and you can't get much more tension than that."
Both men made errors in the early stages of the clincher but Ebdon made a 59 to regain the initiative. Hendry then potted the white while attempting a snooker and moments later Ebdon had secured the winner's cheque for £260,000, a new world ranking of No3 and, most coveted of all, the title.
"The last couple of matches were like a dream," he said yesterday. "It's almost as if it wasn't me and that I was looking in and not been there. It was very strange."
Strange perhaps, but enthralling for the millions at home and a packed arena who were kept on the edge of their seats to the last. No final since Dennis Taylor's epic 18-17 win against Steve Davis in 1985 has ended with such tension. And only that match and Hendry's win in 1994 against Jimmy White had ever gone the full distance before.
It was a fitting finale to a tournament that had seen some of the finest matches in the modern game, not to mention a rewriting of the statistics. Hendry's defeat of the 2001 champion, Ronnie O'Sullivan, for a berth in his ninth final was a masterclass. Ebdon's win over Stevens was a triumph for steely hope over unfulfilled expectation.
Hendry, the greatest player the game has seen, set a record for the most centuries in any tournament in the game's history: 16. There were 68 hundreds in all in the championships, which demolished the old record of 59. There were eight in the final alone, four apiece, also a record. It was not the year for the Hendry VIII but it was regal fare indeed.
The Scot said after his defeat that nerves had told in the end. "I never thought the day would come when I'd have to say I bottled the chance to win the World Championship," he said. "I had two good chances in that last frame and the concentration was not what it should have been. But take nothing away from Peter. He played strong match snooker throughout and his game is a lot stronger than when I beat him in the 1996 final." On that occasion, Ebdon lost 18-12, but such details will no longer matter.
"I always believed I could win the World Championship but it is something different to actually go through and do it," said Ebdon, who has undergone a mental and physical transformation since his Crucible debut in 1992.
Then he was pony-tailed, stockier, cockier. Now, after losing weight and taking up swimming, yoga and psychology, he is in the finest form of his career. His demeanour has never been attractive, a somewhat humourless blend of stares and, after wins, manic pronouncements. But even that seemed to drop away on Monday, revealing a figure who had patently cared very much indeed about reaching his goal even if he had spent the journey in irritable mood as opposed to measured patience. With the monkey off his back, he could now go on, with rubber-stamped confidence, to be a bona fide member of the élite.
Who knows, he could even defy the Crucible curse of first-time champions and become the first ever to mount a successful first defence next year. What a Double that would be.
BAIZE OF GLORY HOW THE FINALE UNFOLDED
FRAME 34 (Score: Ebdon 17, Hendry 17)
Hendry makes a break of 19 but misses a red to give Ebdon a difficult chance. Ebdon makes the pot, builds a break of 51 and looks set for the title, but with only four reds left he misses a red into the middle. Hendry now has the chance to take the match into a decider but misses a straight red and Ebdon, leading 51-27, returns to the table. The Englishman pots the 13th red but then misses a straightforward black and Hendry clears up.
FRAME 35 (Ebdon 18, Hendry 17)
Ebdon secures the first major break, scoring 59 to lead 63-8. With the other reds safe, Ebdon takes on a cushion-hugging red into the bottom right, but the ball hits both jaws of the pocket and fails to drop. Hendry adds six points before snookering Ebdon behind the black. Ebdon hits one of the reds but leaves Hendry with options for safety. The Scot opts for a difficult snooker behind the black, but goes in off. Ebdon pots a red and a brown and the Scot concedes.Reuse content