1994 - HENDRY BEATS WHITE...AGAIN
Sport thrives on rivalries and rivalries thrive on contrasting personalities.
With Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White, these contrasts were plain for all to see. Hendry, the imperious master cueman – quiet, dedicated, professional and deadly under pressure – against White, the everyman – gregarious, naturally gifted, a jack-the-lad people’s champion.
It was a compelling pairing that lifted the World Championship in the early 90s to new heights.
White had endured Crucible disappointment long before Hendry came on the scene. In 1982, only Alex Higgins’s audacious 69 clearance denied him a place in the world final. Two years later he himself made a great comeback in the final but just fell short of beating Steve Davis.
Hendry beat White 18-12 in the 1990 world final and 18-5 in 1993. The previous year, the Scot came from 14-8 down to beat him 18-14, a final White looked certain to win early on the second day.
However, 1994 was his big chance. An excellent match came down to a pulsating last session.
White trailed 16-14 but won a black ball frame to level at 16-16 and Hendry failed to pot a ball in the frame White won for 17-17.
For only the second time, the Crucible finale was going to a decider.
After the early exchanges, the balls were at White’s mercy. Leading 37-24, on a break of 29 and just a few balls away from victory, he missed the black off its spot.
It was surely pressure that caused the mistake. Hendry, the best pressure player who ever lived, was a White fan as a boy but, rightly, pushed sympathy aside and clinically cleared up to win 18-17.
“He’s starting to annoy me,” joked White, always gracious regardless of the result, but the pain of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory would soon hit home and his career entered a decline.
He stemmed it here and there, most notably in 2004 when he won the Players Championship.
The Whirlwind also gave his vast army of supporters something to cheer at the Crucible in 1998 when, as a qualifier, he beat Hendry 10-4 in the first round.
And yet this and all the titles he won could not possibly make up for the fact that the one he really wanted slipped him by.
Next year, he will have to win four matches to qualify. Everyone hopes he will but it seems like a long shot.
White was certainly good enough to be world champion and, in terms of pure ability, better than many of those who did win the game’s greatest prize but, on that night in Sheffield in 1994, he fell painfully short.
It was a great occasion but, for millions, a great disappointment.