Four years ago this month, Ronnie O’Sullivan produced one of modern snooker’s most iconic moments by making his 1,000th competitive century in the Players Championship final.
O’Sullivan currently has 1,196 centuries to his name and is way out in front on this list, while a three-way race to become the second man to 1,000 takes place between John Higgins (928), Judd Trump (899) and Neil Robertson (891).
Trump is likely to reach 900 at this week’s WST Classic. There will be no jubilant scenes accompanying this feat: spectators will not be admitted to Leicester’s Morningside Arena until the final day.
Even so, at just 33, his weight of scoring is formidable. O’Sullivan was 41 when he hit 900 centuries.
Trump had been the opponent when Robertson made history as the first player to compile 100 centuries in a single season during the 2013/14 campaign. Robertson celebrated as if he had won the title when the century of centuries was completed, leaving Trump somewhat non-plussed.
In 2020, though, Trump himself achieved this milestone, making 102 centuries for the campaign compared with Robertson’s record tally of 103. These are numbers which would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. In the 1991/92 season, in which he reached 12 finals and won nine titles, the great Stephen Hendry made 53 centuries.
Times change. Back then, this put Hendry way ahead of the other players. At the Crucible in 1992, there were 25 century breaks made. At last year’s tournament, there were 109. Indeed, on the opening day of last year’s World Championship, there were eight centuries compiled, two more than in the whole of the first Crucible event in 1977.
Modern conditions certainly help, with lighter balls and thinner cloths making it easier to get the reds into play and manoeuvre the cue ball around the table. But players are also better, and the game has changed. Professionals today are more attacking, and more willing to take risks to kill frames off in one visit.
There are currently 76 players who have made a century of centuries in professional competition, though this number will rise in the coming years.
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Why are centuries so highly prized?
A break of 80 will almost always win a player a frame. A run of 99 is ultimately worth the same as one of 100.
But there is something psychologically satisfying about getting into three figures. Like so many things in sport which inspire awe, it’s about achieving something most people cannot.
When Robertson and Trump produced eight centuries between them in their best-of-19-frame Champion of Champions final in 2019, one leading player told me that he couldn’t understand why everyone was making such a fuss about it.
This is because he thinks nothing of going down the snooker club one morning and making a century. To him, it is second nature. For most people who have played snooker socially for years, maybe decades, it still seems like an unachievable goal.
Every player can remember how old they were when they made their first century. That doesn’t apply to any other figure apart from a maximum 147.
And in current times, where gaining a competitive edge is everything, there is also an element of bravado. A century is a statement. It’s a marker laid down. It’s a chance ruthlessly punished in a single visit.
Take Mark Williams. In his younger days, he often could not be bothered completing century breaks. If he got to 70 or 80 and had clearly won the frame, he would take his foot off the gas. Now, like everyone else, he does his best to make them.
Robertson sums up the prevailing mindset of leading players when it comes to centuries. His focus when he made 103 in 2013/14 was remarkable. During one match against Qatar’s Ahmed Saif, he made four to win 4-0.
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It could be argued that his current season started to go wrong because of his relentless pursuit of centuries. He had made three against Joe O’Connor in their Scottish Open semi-final in early December, leaving the match poised at 3-3. On 60 in the next frame, he attempted to keep the break going to make another ton, missed and O’Connor produced a brilliant clearance before going on to win 6-3. Robertson has reached just one semi-final since, although he and Trump are still top of the season’s century-maker’s list with 43 apiece.
Steve Davis became the first player to make three centuries in three frames in the 1988 International Open final. Higgins was the first to make four in four in the 2005 Grand Prix final.
O’Sullivan is the only player to make five in a best-of-nine-frame match, which he achieved in beating Ali Carter 5-2 in the 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy. One of his centuries was a maximum.
There are other ways to measure the significance of centuries, such as the number made per frames won, but this risks boiling down the thrill of seeing a century to some joyless metric, impressive only on paper.
The point of a hundred-plus break is the reaction it receives. The live audience will always applaud a century. They recognise the skill, the entertainment and the achievement on show.
With O’Sullivan still playing at the very highest level, it will take a long time to unseat him as snooker’s chief centurion.
Who will win the race to be the next to 1,000? There’s little to choose between Trump and Robertson, while Higgins is still scoring heavily late in his career.
Whenever it comes, it can’t match the pure theatre of O’Sullivan’s 1,000th. That was an unprecedented moment.
But it will still be special because centuries remain a measure of how well a player is performing, and audiences will continue to marvel at the expertise required to make them.
Top 10 century makers
- 1,196 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 928 – John Higgins
- 899 – Judd Trump
- 891 – Neil Robertson
- 776 – Stephen Hendry
- 754 – Mark Selby
- 614 – Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy
- 587 – Mark Williams
- 568 – Mark Allen
Most centuries in one match by one player
- 7 – Stephen Hendry (1994 UK Championship final); Ding Junhui (2016 World Championship semi-finals); Judd Trump (2019 World Championship final)
Most centuries in one match by both players
- 11 – Judd Trump and John Higgins (2019 World Championship final)
Most centuries in a tournament
- 23 – Kyren Wilson (2021 Championship League); Matt Selt (2023 Championship League)
Most centuries in a ranking tournament
- 18 – Ding Junhui (2016 World Championship)
Most centuries in one year at the Crucible
- 16 – Stephen Hendry (2002); Mark Williams (2022)
Most centuries all-time at the Crucible
- 199 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 164 – John Higgins
- 127 – Stephen Hendry
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