Two of the snooker’s best players and primary rivals will do battle in the UK Championship final on Sunday.
Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan provide the dream climax at the Barbican Centre for viewers everywhere after emerging from contrasting semi-final encounters on Saturday.
Selby’s superior tactical awareness was the telling difference as he outplayed Shaun Murphy in a 6-2 victory.
Later in the evening, O’Sullivan was made to work much harder, taken the distance by Marco Fu before producing a wonderful 130 century break in the decider to clinch victory.
Indeed, the ‘Rocket’ was only a matter of balls from the exit door when, trailing 5-4, Fu missed a pottable green when it looked for all money that he was going to clear and knock out the favourite.
Instead, O’Sullivan moves into a sixth UK Championship final – 23 years after his first appearance when he collected his maiden ranking event title at the tender age of just 17.
Amazingly, O’Sullivan has never lost in a final at the UKs but not much should be read into that, especially considering the parallels that can be made with his record at the same stage in the World Championship.
With five victories in Crucible finals and zero defeats heading into the 2014 showdown, the Englishman finally lost one on his sixth attempt – to a certain Mark Selby.
Arguments can be made that Selby represents the player who has been O’Sullivan’s biggest challenge throughout his illustrious career.
The ‘Jester’ has been on the wrong end of a few hidings – who hasn’t with Ronnie! – but has equally come up with the goods in many grandstand duels between the pair.
Selby possesses an inferior head-to-head record but has overcome the 40 year-old in a highly respectable four out of the six finals they have faced one another in.
One of the main reasons for the former’s prolonged success is his style of play, which is at complete odds to the way O’Sullivan yearns to entertain.
Selby isn’t a slow player, but his amazing ability to mix heavy scoring with protracted safety battles has bogged down many an opponent.
While O’Sullivan is bidding to move into second on his own in the ranking event winners’ list with 29, Selby is continuously developing his own legacy in the sport and history suggests it’s unlikely he’ll be an easy target.
The world no.1 has spent the last 95 weeks at top spot in the rankings while a triumph in York will see him become a multiple Triple Crown champion, having already tasted UK glory in 2012.
One major difference between this final and the 2014 World Championship affair is arguably O’Sullivan’s attitude.
Then, there was a distinct sense that O’Sullivan lacked a degree of respect for Selby, not least having labeled him as the “Torturer” in a recently published autobiography.
Since that defeat, though, and with Selby joining the band of world champions, O’Sullivan has spoken more highly of the 33 year-old’s performances on the baize.
Perhaps this was highlighted in their two most recent meetings this year at the quarter-final stage in both the Masters and the Welsh Open, which O’Sullivan won easily before emerging with both trophies later in the respective weeks.
However, Selby has grown a notch in stature even since then, with an apparent ability to never let the occasion or the scoreline get the better of his emotions.
While O’Sullivan has lost in two tight finals this season, his adversary has emerged triumphant in two – the Paul Hunter Classic and the International Championship.
As ever with these major best of 19 finals, a lot will come down to how the first session unfolds.
The neutral, of which there probably aren’t many, will be hoping it’s level pegging with a late night of tension-filled drama to look forward to.