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All-time top 10: Who are snooker's greatest long potters?

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Greatest potters in snooker

Image credit: Eurosport

ByDesmond Kane
02/04/2020 at 11:36 | Updated 21/04/2020 at 09:58

In the second of our weekly series, we look at the 10 greatest players in each department of snooker finishing with the Greatest Of All Time. We continue by looking at the game's finest long potters.

1. Judd Trump (England)

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Judd Trump - World Open

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Judd Trump, with more potting ability than Percy Thrower, perhaps edges out Neil Robertson on the all-time long list for what he provided in the 2019 World Championship final. An 18-9 win over John Higgins was staggering enough, outmanoeuvring one of the game's true titans, but the manner of the victory was probably the greatest levels ever reached on the sport’s grandest stage.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Bristolian. At one point, Trump seemed to be playing on autopilot, like the pockets were craters. Higgins has witnessed as much as anybody in the sport over 28 years, but was flabbergasted by the green baize hurting bombs TNT Trump unloaded over a bewitching two days.

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It was breathless, incomparable one-visit snooker, including seven centuries and nine breaks over 50, in lifting his first world title in the final as he turned the Crucible Theatre into his own living room. With 12 or 13 frames won at a single visit, Higgins was privileged to be on the receiving end: “He doesn’t just overwhelm the opponent, he overwhelms the snooker table. I don’t think there’s been quite a player like him.”

Trump can pot balls, create angles and get movement on the cueball like no other player. He is quickly becoming the all-rounder with a tactical approach enhancing his wares, but it is his opportunism to create from distance that ultimately creates carnage.

If there has ever been a better long potter in snooker, one does not immediately spring to mind.

2. Neil Robertson (Australia)

Neil Robertson

Image credit: Reuters

Robertson forged his reputation as a formidable potter when he attempted to make it as a professional on the UK-based professional circuit three times in the late nineties and early noughties before returning to Australia out of pocket and out of form. When he eventually regained his own self-belief by winning the World Under-21 Championship in New Zealand in July 2003, including a victory over a teenage Ding Junhui, he would not be denied a fourth time. He remains a devastating, preening potter at his best, but has added a substantial tactical game to support his adroitness from beyond the balk line.

With one of the best all-round games in the sport’s history, the 2010 world champion Robertson remains as dangerous when he is lining up pots at distance as among them from close range. He holds the record for most centuries in a season with his haul of 103 in 2013/14 - a totemic moment in snooker folklore.

Only Ronnie O’Sullivan (1038), Stephen Hendry (778), John Higgins (772) and Judd Trump (712) have made more career centuries than Robertson's 701. Like those four icons, the Aussie likes to provide for himself.

Which is perhaps understandable when he almost failed at the sport he lives and breathes.

Projecting a flawless technique, there is arguably no better long potter in the game than the Melbourne Potting Machine, a committed vegan who smells blood on a snooker table.

3. Mark Williams (Wales)

Mark Williams

Image credit: PA Sport

Described as the best single ball potter in the history of the sport by his peers, Williams has spent 28 years at the very top of the game because of an enviable long game that enables him to dictate the narrative of a frame. He is not nicknamed the Welsh Potting Machine because of a reputation for tactical torpidity despite his innate ability to win at any cost.

Williams has lifted three world titles in 2000, 2003 and 2018 based on a penchant for snaffling up half chances. Only Williams, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis have won the world title, Masters and UK Championship in a single season, but the man from Cwm in Blaenau Gwent arguably did it in a more taxing era.

Mark Williams dispatches long-range red

00:00:25

He remains in esteemed company. “Long potting is all about confidence, and good eyesight,” he said.

Think positive. If you're feeling down or lacking a bit of confidence, your game goes. You start thinking about the balls you might miss more than the ones you are going to pot.

At the age of 45, Williams has never been blighted by the fatigue of frames. Nor does he appear ready to slip quietly into the night.

4. Ronnie O’Sullivan (England)

Ronnie O'Sullivan

Image credit: PA Sport

O’Sullivan’s game has become more measured in recent years, but his all-round approach has always been supported by his ability to pounce on half chances from distance. He has never been overly keen on waiting for opponents to make errors, preferring to splatter the reds and limit long exacting frames with one-visit snooker.

The five-times word champion has produced a series of devastating sessions, but his 6-0 whitewash of an unsuspecting Ricky Walden in the quarter-finals of the Masters on the road to winning the 2014 invitational tournament among his overall total of seven was as close as you will see to green baize utopia. O’Sullivan was knocking in balls like he was playing on a pool table. O'Sullivan rolled in a record 556 points without reply, beating the 495 points set by Ding Junhui in 2007.

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"Probably the best performance I have seen from anybody in all the years I've been coming to the Masters," said 1997 world champion Ken Doherty. Of course, it is impossible to maintain such levels on every occasion, but O’Sullivan ranks high among the greatest long potters in the history of the sport.

When he gets it right, nobody does it better.

5. Stephen Hendry (Scotland)

Stephen Hendry of Scotland celebrates victory with the trophy after winning the 1999 Embassy World Snooker Championships Final match against Mark Williams of Wales played at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England.

Image credit: Eurosport

It is easy to forget how imperious Hendry was in his pomp. Such was his self-belief and dominance of the sport that he rarely became embroiled in tactical duels. While his great rival Steve Davis was more concerned about not leaving shots, Hendry was focused on making them.

It was a mindset that proved key in ending Davis’ dominance of the sport in the early 1990s. Hendry pioneered the new breed of attacking snooker player that we witness today when you study the world’s leading men. There was nobody like Hendry in the late 1980s or the 1990s. His one-visit approach would see him smash open the pack of reds as soon as possible with the blue to middle bag at pace to open up the table or controlled blacks a particular favourite of his canon. It was a manoeuvre that helped him to transform the game.

Hendry was a fearsome, focused sight on a snooker table bolstered by a razor sharp game from long range. He once compiled a 147 to overcome Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-8 in the final of the Charity Challenge in 1997 after his opponent had recovered from trailing 8-2 to restore parity at 8-8. Hendry’s long potting was the main stanchion of his snooker success. He had problems with technique that contributed to a steady decline in the noughties before he retired in 2012. He was also unwilling to fraternise with a safety game that could have extended his lifespan like Davis or O’Sullivan.

Yet it is astonishing to think of what his success might have been when he largely refused to see extended safety bouts as helpful to his cause. That all seven of his world crowns were donned in the nineties is also fascinating.

Hendry remains the winner of the most world titles in the modern era. His long potting was a key component behind his stockpile of silverware.

6. Shaun Murphy (England)

Shaun Murphy (Welsh Open)

Image credit: Getty Images

Murphy lifted the 2005 World Championship at the age of 22 as a 150-1 qualifier with a performance heavy on long pots and low on safety. Like Stephen Hendry, safety has never really been Murphy’s law. Sometimes when you study Murphy in action, you wonder how he has contrived to win only a solitary world title.

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He has a ramrod straight technique, among the best snooker has paid testament to, that allows him to generate power and pace through the cue ball from distance. While a lack of a safety game and odd lapses in concentration has arguably harpooned his quest for greater riches, his potting ability has never been in doubt.

Murphy apparently toyed with the idea of retirement after a barren 2019, but has emerged a stronger figure for his travails lifting the China Championship and Welsh Open this season to increase his career haul to nine ranking event triumphs.

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“There are times when the occasion gets the better of you. This time it all clicked," said Murphy after demolishing Kyren Wilson 9-1 to lift the Welsh Open in February.

It is dangerous to put too much stock on how you play. There is a small part of the mind that thinks about how you win rather than the winning itself and that can be very dangerous. However, it was nice to allow myself a little moment of enjoying the way I won and the performance in that match.

7. John Higgins (Scotland)

Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, England; Betfred World Snooker Championship, second round; John Higgins (SCO) in action during his second round match against Stuart Bingham (ENG)

Image credit: Getty Images

Higgins merits a place in the pantheon of potters for his range of skills on a snooker table. Renowned as a formidable tactical player, mastering the safety side of the game is only beneficial if you can score heavily.

Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan studied Stephen Henry’s fixation with one-visit snooker, and arguably improved it, adding their own class to the theory of potting a long red, finishing plum on the black before devouring the balls to win frames with minimal fuss.

Higgins plucks out magical red

00:00:47

Higgins remains a devastating long potter. Armed with a technique made to weather the buffeting storms of self-doubt, the stats would back up his success. He has lifted four world titles with victories over Ken Doherty, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy and Judd Trump illustrating an enduring class in all aspects of the game. He has also reached the last three world finals to roll back the years as much as the blacks.

To be a contender at the Crucible over three decades tells the story of a very special potter.

8. Alex Higgins (Northern Ireland)

Alex Higgins in action at the Irish Masters in 1990.

Image credit: Eurosport

Higgins stood out in the 1970s and 1980s surrounded by figures who were addicted to a percentage, tactical game such as Ray Reardon and Steve Davis. Higgins was also a fine safety player, but was a prodigious potter whose vibe was one of unpredictability. He was more interested in amusing himself and delighting the public with a unique brand of attacking snooker than reverting to the trenches.

While there are arguably more consistent potters in modern snooker than Higgins, it should not be underestimated the level of credibility the Northern Irishman brought to the green baize at the beginning of the televised era. Without Higgins, the mass market appeal of snooker would never have gained traction in the early days of television coverage.

His Hurricane nickname fitted with his ability to race through pots and frames without much thought. His break in the 1982 World Championship semi-final against Jimmy White shows how good a single ball potter Higgins was.

Higgins won two world titles, against John Spencer in 1972 and Ray Reardon in 1982, but the second was the solitary world trophy he carried off at the Crucible. In the semi-finals against Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White, he trailed 15-14 and 59-0 when he came to the table. On the cusp of defeat, he produced a series of unbelievable pots

"It was a mental break, it was phenomenal," said White. "I didn't think he would clear up, no. There were about four shots he played that were amazing. His name was on the trophy that year. Did it cost me the World Championship? At that time I didn't care if I won or lost because I was having such fun. In 1979 and 1980, I went to Australia to play in the amateur World Championship which cost me two years of experience at the Crucible. Who knows? Maybe it was meant to be because I'm still playing now."

That Higgins could do it under pressure and under the influence of several libations is even more impressive.

9. Jimmy White (England)

Jimmy White with the Masters trophy in 1984.

Image credit: Eurosport

Jimmy White will be recalled as snooker’s nearly man, but the same cannot be said for his potting ability in his prime. White lost six world finals in the 1980s and 1990s, but it is worth noting that he lost four of them to Stephen Hendry and another one to Steve Davis, two of the greatest players to play the game.

If not for those two pesky characters, White’s long game would have delivered multiple world titles, and he would have merited them. His potting ability was not hugely inferior to Davis or Hendry in their halcyon days. It was probably a bit less consistency in scoring, safety and temperament that did for him over a longer period of time. But the Whirlwind was a firm favourite with the snooker public because he played the game to entertain.

Like Alex Higgins, he was a pioneer of attacking play from long range. As a winner of the Masters in 1984 and the UK Championship in 1992, his place in the all-time list of prominent potters must respect his era as well as his role in the sport's progression.

10. Cliff Wilson (Wales)

Cliff Wilson at the 1988 World Championship.

Image credit: Eurosport

A player ahead of his time and after his time. Wilson was a ferocious potter, who played at breakneck speed and put the emphasis firmly on entertainment. At the age of 54, he was remarkably ranked at 14 in the world in 1988 despite battling fading eyesight and ill health. There are certainly more consistent candidates to include in a top 10 of out-and-out potters, but Wilson stood out in his era, and provided his successors with a blueprint on a different way to approach the game.

From Tredegar, the same Welsh town as six-times world champion Ray Reardon, Wilson won the Welsh Amateur Championship in 1956, 1977 and 1978, but worked in the steelworks at Llanwern until he turned professional at the age of 45 after claiming the World Amateur Championship in 1978. He usurped Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-8 in the 1992 UK Championship two years before his premature death at the age of 60 due to ill health. He was once coached by the great Joe Davis, but probably played snooker in the wrong era.

If Wilson was a twentysomething today, he would be a clear and present danger.

Desmond Kane

Do you agree with our top 10 long potters of all time? Let us know your views...

Part One - All-time top 10: Who are snooker's greatest tacticians?

Next week: Part three: All-time top 10: Who are snooker's greatest overseas champions?

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