Currently still the youngest player ever to become World Champion, Ponomariov has since struggled to live up to that feat he accomplished in 2002. Back then he won six mini-matches before pulling off a shock by defeating his compatriot Vassily Ivanchuk 4.5-2.5 in the 8-game final. The sky seemed to be the limit for an 18-year-old who had already barged his way into the world Top 10, but disappointments followed. Above all, a planned 14-game match against Garry Kasparov collapsed in circumstances that to this day remain murky, so that ultimately Ponomariov lost his title without a contest when he chose not to take part in the next FIDE World Championship in Libya in 2004.
In the decade after claiming the title Ponomariov has scored impressive results, for instance finishing joint first in the 2006 Tal Memorial and outright first in Dortmund 2010 and the 2011 Ukrainian Championship, but his haul of victories in elite tournaments has been modest. Perhaps rather than his 2002 victory being an anomaly the knockout format that was in place back then was a perfect match for his talents, which include huge determination and nerves of steel. He proved it was no accident in subsequent knockout events, finishing runner-up in the 2005 World Cup, losing in the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup to the eventual winner Gata Kamsky, and losing the final of the 2009 World Cup to Gelfand only on tiebreaks. In 2011 he again lost to the eventual winner, Peter Svidler, this time in the semi-finals.