So we have finally reached the climax of the 2014 World Championship and the season itself.
After a grueling campaign that lasted more than 11 months, its conclusion is upon us as two of the sport’s heaviest hitters go blow for blow with the glory of being crowned world champion awaiting the winner.
Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby have arguably been the game’s fiercest rivals of the last half-dozen years and now they finally get the opportunity to test each other on the biggest stage of them all.
Over the next two days 980 fans will pack the quaint but quintessential Crucible Theatre, an arena that has created so many of snooker’s finest moments.
Whoever emerges victorious as world champion on Monday will further imprint themselves in the sport’s history books.
For Mark Selby, the ‘Jester’ is attempting to become world champion for the first time in his career.
The 30 year-old’s meteoric rise to the top of the game began in this championship in 2007 when he made an unexpected run to the final.
There, he lost to Scotland’s John Higgins and seven years later Selby comes up against the other dominant force of this generation.
Selby is a three-time ranking event winner and has a hat-trick of Masters titles to his name as well, but it is his failure to capitalise on so many chances in finals that has characterised his career so far.
Of the 11 ranking event finals he has contested, Selby has only collected a disappointing three trophies.
Three Masters crowns ensures he will always be considered as one of the greats in that invitational event but he has in fact lost two further finals – both of which were against the man he is preparing to face at 2pm later this afternoon.
Indeed, the rivalry between the pair has lasted since 2008 and encompassed many final showdowns.
In 2008, Selby came from 8-5 down to overcome the ‘Rocket’ with tough match snooker in a deciding frame to collect the Welsh Open.
It wasn’t to be the only time that the man from Leicester would enjoy a thrilling comeback conquer as, two years later at Wembley Arena, Selby reversed a three frame deficit with four to play to grind down O’Sullivan 10-9 in the final of the Masters.
Sandwiching those two battles, though, were two further Masters contests where O’Sullivan boasted the spoils – the latter of which contested only this year when the Chigwell cueist thoroughly dismantled his opponent’s challenge in a 10-4 drubbing.
That this affair is so recent in the memory could favour the already favourable chances of O’Sullivan.
The 38 year-old raced to a 7-1 advantage after the first session that day and it goes without saying that Selby cannot afford to let O’Sullivan get that far ahead again, even in light of the fact that there are more frames on this occasion to try to reel him back in.
O’Sullivan, if it even needed proving, has demonstrated in this tournament alone his ability to crush opponents with a flurry of fast frames.
Following a taxing tie with Joe Perry in the last 16, O’Sullivan has won successive encounters, over former champion Shaun Murphy and 2013 runner-up Barry Hawkins, with full sessions to spare.
This guaranteed O’Sullivan a day off on Saturday to recuperate, relax and prepare for his quest to equal Steve Davis and former coach Ray Reardon’s tally of six world crowns, just one shy of the modern-day record held by Stephen Hendry.
For long periods of Ronnie’s career, it appeared as though his talent would never be fully reflected in the record books.
Yet, since joining forces with sports psychiatrist Dr. Steve Peters a couple of years ago, O’Sullivan has become calmly, but determinedly, intent on being firmly remembered as the best.
Victory on Monday evening would be his third World Championship on the trot and it would take a brave man to suggest that his run of success would cease there.
On his day, Selby has the game to challenge O’Sullivan and even beat him.
That his game relies heavily on punishing tactical astuteness goes against his chances in a long best-of-35 frame clash, especially after taking into consideration his fatiguing semi-final bout with Neil Robertson yesterday.
It is imperative that Selby, dubbed the ‘Torturer’ in O’Sullivan’s latest autobiography, remains close to his opponent after the first day because it is doubtful whether he would have the mental stamina to mount a successful turnaround again.
O’Sullivan, on the other hand, is fresh and surely ready to etch his name on the famous trophy for the sixth time.
This ought to be O’Sullivan’s toughest test in a world final since his first one way back in 2001 against Higgins, but even then it would be a surprise if he was to come out of it a loser for the first time.
O’Sullivan’s supremacy looks set to continue.