The final of the 2016 Dafabet Masters will be contested between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Barry Hawkins on Sunday.
Both men emerged victorious from their semi-final encounters at the Alexandra Palace to set up a repeat of their 2013 World Championship final showdown – which of course was won by the ‘Rocket’.
Hawkins is embarking on his maiden appearance at this stage of the prestigious invitation event having upset Judd Trump in the last four with a superb display.
O’Sullivan, on the other hand, is in familiar territory with the 40 year-old set to feature in a record 11th final after his last four defeat of world champion Stuart Bingham.
Yet, the five-time winner was once again ill-pleased with his performance, describing it as “embarrassing” at times as he struggled to live up to his own exceedingly high expectations.
While he certainly didn’t match his pinnacle, O’Sullivan had still more than enough in reserve to gain revenge on the player who inflicted his most recent sabbatical from the sport with defeat at the Crucible last year.
The affair, particularly in the beginning, was scrappier than predicted but O’Sullivan still managed to conjure up magic in two frames when his back was against the wall.
A series of wonderful pots in the sixth frame saw him come back to snatch a frame he had needed a snooker in, while he stunned an astounding red the length of the table in the ninth frame to help seal his 6-3 victory.
If O’Sullivan felt that he was well below his A-game, Hawkins will by contrast be elated with the level that he was able to produce on the big stage.
The 36 year-old began with two centuries and added another when the match was on knife edge at 4-4, to go along with other runs of 78 and 74, as he ousted Trump by two frames in a high-quality affair.
Trump will rue a few glaring missed opportunities when he seemed to have Hawkins on the ropes and it represents yet another disappointment for the 26 year-old in a major event.
Hawkins, though, has proved beyond any doubt that he is a player not to be underestimated.
Playing Ronnie in a Masters final on his London turf isn’t going to be easy but Hawkins did challenge valiantly when the pair met each other in that world final – when O’Sullivan was arguably playing the best snooker of his career.
That said, O’Sullivan will be the overwhelming favourite as he seeks to equal Stephen Hendry’s record of six Masters titles.
The duo has met on several occasions down through the years but Hawkins has only won once, in their first tie way back in 2002.
Hawkins will be hoping to keep it close after the first session and capitalise on any mental weaknesses that his opponent may be carrying over from the previous rounds.
O’Sullivan has the potential to beat himself with his cagey temperament but likewise is there the opportunity that he’ll create the sublime, hence the reason he generates box-office entertainment on a regular basis.
Should O’Sullivan go on to lift the trophy, it’ll represent a second occasion that the Chigwell cueist has taken a respite from the sport only to return with success in a major.
Ironically, the last time was when he also met Hawkins in the final in Sheffield.
Will the result be the same today?