Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby remain on course for what would be a mouthwatering final contest at the UK Championship in York.
The pair each has one last hurdle to overcome, with the semi-finals finally bringing the cauldron one-table set-up to the Barbican on Saturday.
Both men face players who featured in the 2008 final when the tournament was previously staged in Telford.
Shaun Murphy beat Marco Fu 10-9 on that occasion for his sole UK title, meaning three out of the final four contenders all know what it takes to triumph in the second biggest ranking event.
O’Sullivan continues to seemingly be untouchable this week after a relatively routine quarter-final victory over Mark Williams on Friday.
The Englishman wasn’t at his best but didn’t need to be, with just Fu now standing in his way of a berth in the final.
The 40 year-old is seeking a record-equaling sixth UK crown, an incredible 23 years after he lifted his first trophy in 1993.
That was also his maiden ranking event success, while victory on Sunday would see him move into alone in second place on the all-time winners’ list with 29.
Fu, who came from 5-2 behind to deny another Welshman Jamie Jones in a decider, will represent a tricky challenge for O’Sullivan but the latter will undoubtedly be the overwhelming favourite.
At one stage in their rivalry, Fu was one of the few competitors on the circuit who held a decent head-to-head record against O’Sullivan.
The Hong Konger knocked the ‘Rocket’ out of the 2003 World Championship and claimed his first ranking title at O’Sullivan’s expense in the Grand Prix final of 2007.
However, it has been eight years since the 38 year-old has tasted glory over the five-time world champion and the signs for an improvement don’t look good.
In their previous two clashes over 11 frames, O’Sullivan has allowed Fu a mere one frame – much like his lack of generosity throughout this entire UK Championship.
Fu’s done well to get this far, using his experience to beat a host of lower ranked opposition, but an extension of his stay at the Barbican would represent a pretty big surprise.
Then should O’Sullivan reach the final, who would he meet?
Well, either potential foe could constitute a grudge match of sorts.
While O’Sullivan has been much more polite with his opinions of Selby in recent years – he once called the world no.1 the “Torturer” – the duo has been involved in many grandstand final showdowns in major tournaments.
Murphy, meanwhile, wasn’t shy – he never is – in telling Ronnie that he should “stick to playing snooker” following comments in the last week from O’Sullivan surrounding how he thinks the sport should be run.
A little ironic then, that the 2005 world champion subsequently comes out with his apparently widely backed opinions about dealing with kicks.
Anyway, before any of that there’s the tiny matter of a highly intriguing affair between Selby and Murphy themselves.
Murphy dominated his last eight tie with Luca Brecel but, by contrast, Selby was engrossed in a titanic battle with John Higgins which concluded with a tense and dramatic decider.
Selby and Murphy have known each other a long time having come up through the amateur scene and the professional ranks almost side by side throughout the last couple of decades.
As such, the pair has met on many occasions with the stats very narrowly in favour of the ‘Jester from Leicester’.
Their last encounter came at the 2015 German Masters final, which Selby emerged victorious in to regain his place at the top of the world rankings.
Almost 95 weeks later and the 33 year-old continues to reign supreme at the peak of the standings, with no clear sign as to when he might relinquish his position such is his monstrous lead over the chasing pack.
Murphy has scored pretty heavily in this event so far and he will need every bit of that firepower to reach a third UK final – he lost the 2012 final to the same opponent – because it is highly unlikely that he’ll match Selby in terms of safety.
Of the two semi-final encounters, though, this clash has the bigger chance of going the distance and providing some real drama.
As has been the case right through the tournament, BBC and Eurosport will provide live coverage of proceedings.
That said, the BBC did come under fire on Friday for pulling the Selby-Higgins match off its primary television platform seven minutes before its climax – in favour of a Strictly Come Dancing weekly preview show.
Perhaps you should have that Red Button on standby.
Categories: Snooker News