Three iconic World Snooker Championships ended today.
In the early hours of the morning, watched by a record TV audience of 18½ million, the final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor was decided on the last black of the final frame. An ending like that hadn't looked likely at the start of the match. In the first frame, Taylor made a break of 50 but lost it - and the next seven. It was standard Davis practice. Take a big lead and intimidate them. He did that when he first won the title (April 20, 1981); he'd once beaten Taylor 9-0 in a major final; and now his play was typical of him at his best: safety shots tight to the baulk cushion, potting strong and secure. But in the 1983 UK final, David had led 7-0 against Alex Higgins only to lose 16-15, and now another Ulsterman clung on. Taylor won the ninth on the pink and was only 9-7 down overnight. The next day he completed a run of seven frames in a row, lost two to go 11-8 down, then levelled at 11-all and 15-all. But Davis was a fighter too. He went 17-15 in front, leaving Taylor needing the last three frames. The first was won on the pink, the second with a break of 71. The final frame lasted 68 minutes and took us from the night of the 28th into the dark recesses. Taylor cracked first - but Davis cracked last. Left with a routine cut into the top pocket, he missed it. Taylor to potted the black before brandishing his cue above his head. His oversized specs were now the most famous in the country. He didn't reach the Final again, but probably didn't grieve too much. Davis was back next year (May 5), when he met his most unlikely opponent.
In 1990, Stephen Hendry became the youngest ever world champion. At 21, he led his hero Jimmy White 9-7 overnight, then won the first four frames of the last day; White didn't pot a ball in three of them. White twice reduced the gap to four frames but couldn't get any closer. His safety play wasn't good enough and Hendry's potting was. Typical of a match involving White, the frames in the final averaged only 12 minutes each. At 16-12 up, Hendry made breaks of 81 and 71 to become Scotland's first world champion since Walter Donaldson forty years earlier - then dominated the rest of the decade.
In 1978, Ray Reardon became the oldest world champion. At 45, he was slightly older than Joe Davis on May 18, 1946. Very much the champion of the 1970s as Davis was of the 1980s and Hendry the 1990s, 'Dracula' won his sixth and last world title by beating South African left-hander Perrie Mans, a top potter but no great safety player. Mans beat defending champion John Spencer in the first round and 64-year-old former champion Fred Davis in the semi-final. In the final, Reardon won the first session 5-2 but Mans was level at 8-8 by the end of the day. 'I feel I can do him now,' quoth our Afrikaner friend. By the next interval, Reardon led only 12-11. Then something typical of Mans: after firing in a red along the top cushion, he missed a yellow to let Reardon in for a break of 64 to go 13-11 up. Later, Mans played the shot of the tournament, a pink into the baulk pocket with enough screw back to cut in the black with a half-butt. But he was still 15-12 down after that. Reardon led 18-14 overnight on his way to winning 25-18.
Wigan won the Challenge Cup for the eighth time in a row. They were already the only club to win it three in a row (April 28, 1990), and now they completed their sixth straight League and Cup Double. The different attitudes of the two clubs were illustrated with two minutes to go. Leeds scored a try and celebrated enthusiastically. Wigan had been defending as if the match depended on it. They were 30-4 up at the time. Jason Robinson won the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match for the speed that brought him two of Wigan's five tries. Not bad for someone playing with a broken bone in his foot! Frano Botica kicked five goals to finish with a record 46 points in Challenge Cup finals.
Andre Agassi was born in Las Vegas and became one of the greatest tennis players of all time. He lost seven Grand Slam singles finals, but he was invariably playing on surfaces that suited his opponents (Sampras at Wimbledon and the US, Federer in the US, Gómez in the French) - and anyway he also won eight finals. One of the few men to win the singles at every Grand Slam tournament, he was the only one to do it on five different surfaces. His passing shots were cobras and his return of serve the greatest of all time. No backlift to speak of, just the ball coming back as fast as you delivered it. The Wimbledon final against Goran Ivanišević on July 5, 1992 was a classic server v returner. Charisma as well as talent: warned about his trademark coloured clothing before his first visit to Wimbledon, Agassi appeared in gleaming all-white. He helped the USA win the Davis Cup in 1990 and 1992. The only two players to win singles titles at every Grand Slam tournament and the Olympic Games became husband and wife: the other one was Steffi Graf. After he retired, Agassi admitted having lied to the authorities to escape a ban for taking crystal meth.
Mika Häkkinen looked set to win the Spanish Grand Prix for the fourth year in a row - but then he broke down on the last lap, allowing Michael Schumacher through for the first of his four consecutive wins.
Jonah Barrington was born in Cornwall. After drifting through his teens and early twenties looking for something to excel at, he decided on squash. Which was bonkers, other people thought. He simply didn't have any aptitude for it. For a start, his eyesight was so bad he could hardly see the little black ball. So he put contacts in and set about learning the game. He never acquired the skills of, say, a Geoff Hunt or the later Khans, but Jonah's skill in keeping the ball tight to the side walls, shot after shot after shot, was a tremendous weapon, backed by a standard of fitness he invented. He lost a lot of matches to Hunt, but outlasted him in some big ones, including two British Open finals, especially the cruel monster on February 5, 1972. Barrington won the Open six times when it was the World Championship in all but name, keeping his cool when tubby Abou Taleb lost his rag in 1967 and crushing Gogi Alauddin in 1973. With his bandit moustache, fitness fanaticism, and lobbying for better facilities, Jonah raised the sport's profile right up there, an obsessive the sport needed at the time. And one of its greatest ever players.
Jim Ryun was born in Kansas. He eventually became a Republican member of the House of Representatives - but we'll forgive him that for his greatness as a miler. Because this may have been the very best of them all, up there with Roger Bannister, Herb Elliott and the rest. Ryun was freakishly good from the start, setting his four world records before he was 21. He began with the 880 yards when he'd only just turned 19, then the following month absolutely smashed the 1500 mark. It was a good one, too: set by Elliott himself, and it had lasted six years. Ryun ran 3 minutes 33.1 to break it by 2½ seconds. The time would have won the Olympic final in 2004 and 2008, and he left the famous Kenyan Kip Keino 25 yards behind. Only nine days later, Ryun broke the world record for the mile, again by more than two seconds. An amazing streak of running by a teenager. He set another world record in the mile the following year. At that stage, Ryun had it at all. The fastest times in the world and a killer sprint finish. Unbeatable. Except by appalling luck and circumstances. The 1968 Olympics were held at altitude, in which Keino trained at home and Ryun had no chance. He was left artificially far behind in the final on October 20. After that, injuries kicked in and he was never the same again. He might still have turned Olympic silver into gold if he hadn't been tripped in his heat in 1972.
Ruth Fuchs of East Germany set the last of her six world records in the javelin, falling only four centimetres short of becoming the first woman to reach 70 metres. We know how she did it. Steroids and plenty of them. Because she told us.
Johnny Miller was born in San Francisco. Tall and blond, he was golf's glamour boy of the 1970s - and one of its best players. US Open champion on June 17, 1973 after a record last round, he won the Open by six shots three years later (July 10). He was runner-up in the Masters three times and helped win the Ryder Cup in 1975 and 1981.