Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby will clash in a mouthwatering quarter-final at the Masters after emerging from contrasting opening round encounters at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday.
O’Sullivan was making his TV return following a self-inflicted hiatus from the sport that lasted about eight months and many queried what kind of form he would be able to bring to the table.
He was up against fellow 40 year-old and long time rival Mark Williams in what transpired to be one of the matches of the season so far.
Both players mixed a concoction of the sublime and the edgy in a topsy-turvy tie that went all the way to a deciding frame.
Early on, it looked like O’Sullivan had never been away as he raced into a 2-0 lead, albeit with the help of a timely fluke on the green in the second frame.
It looked as though he was about to steal the third as well but a rare miscue allowed Williams in to get his name on the scoreboard.
From here, the match changed considerably as the Welshman, a two-time former champion, began to gain the upper hand tactically.
Competing in his first Masters for three years, Williams won four frames on the spin to orchestrate a two-frame cushion of his own.
Although the drama was at full throttle, by this point the big breaks had been at a premium, but the ‘Rocket’ quickly altered that by reeling off three consecutive frames in less than half an hour with runs of 104, 60 and 117 to regain the advantage.
It looked as though the five-time winner would seal it with his subsequent opportunity but dramatically undercut the final red while on a clearance, allowing his opponent in to force the eleventh and final frame.
Williams was in first with his chance but, after a brief lull, a reckless attempt at a plant allowed O’Sullivan in to make a match clinching break of 62.
It was a superb spectacle from start to finish and, even though there were plenty of mistakes, it was a game which captured the imagination of the 2000-strong crowd inside the cauldron arena.
By contrast, the evening match couldn’t have been any more different.
World no.1 Selby made an excellent 71 clearance to pinch the opening frame and it was one-way traffic thereafter as further runs of 113, 66, 81 and 83 inflicted a 6-0 defeat on Ricky Walden – who endured a second such whitewash in three years in London.
The date between O’Sullivan and Selby will be one to savour as it is their first meeting since the latter reversed a large deficit in the 2014 World Championship final to become the king of the Crucible for the first time.
The pair have been embroiled in many tasty battles down through the years, not least in this tournament where they have locked horns in the final on three occasions.
Before all that, the last 16 comes to a conclusion on Wednesday with the matches between John Higgins and debutant Liang Wenbo, as well as Neil Robertson’s bout with Marco Fu.