Mark Selby and John Higgins will contest the final of the 2017 Betfred World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
The pair won contrasting last four encounters to set up a repeat of the final ten years ago, which Higgins won 18-13.
A lot has changed in the intervening decade with Selby now firmly regarded as the best player in the world, and Higgins the somewhat unlikely contender.
Amazingly, it marks the first time in the Crucible’s 40-year history that the final showdown will be played between two multiple world champions.
Selby returns as the defending champion having previously won the title for the first time in 2014, while Higgins is a four-time winner.
The last time there was a World Championship decider involving multiple world champions was as far back as 1966 when John Pulman beat Fred Davis in a challenge match at St. George’s Hall in Liverpool.
Victory for either Selby or Higgins in 2017 will further underline their credentials as being regarded among the best competitors to have ever played the game.
Selby is in the midst of a period of dominance that has rarely been seen since the Stephen Hendry era of the 1990s.
It’s not quite at that commanding level yet but it’s getting might close.
The world number one is so far out in front in the rankings list that it could take the chasing pack another two years at least to catch him.
The “Jester” has finished each of the last six seasons as the top ranked player and has enjoyed the status on a consecutive basis for in excess of 100 weeks – dating back to the German Masters in 2015.
Selby has already won four ranking event titles in a lucrative season – including the UK and International Championships – and would equal the record of five in a single campaign currently held by Hendry and Ding Junhui if he can reign supreme in Sheffield again over the coming two days.
By overcoming Ding in a supremely entertaining semi-final battle, Selby has become the first player ever to eclipse the one million pound mark in the two-year ranking system.
Indeed, with over £700,000 in earnings from 2016/17, the Englishman has already set a new benchmark for the most ever in a single term – beating Mark Williams’ tally from the 2002/2003 campaign.
<<<Post-Published Edit: Snooker Scene magazine judged Stephen Hendry’s earnings for the 1994/1995 season as being £740,550, which would have stood as the record; either way, Selby or Higgins will surpass that sum with victory on Monday.>>>
Selby proved in his victory over Ding exactly why he is capturing all these trophies and in the process of breaking so many records.
The Chinese number one, who had a huge following of support both inside the arena and afar, stretching all the way back to his homeland where hundreds of millions would have been watching with expectation, couldn’t have played much better than he did.
Yet, Selby has that kind of winning mentality shared only by the likes of Hendry, Steve Davis, Ronnie O’Sullivan, and his upcoming opponent John Higgins.
It doesn’t matter what standard he plays to – albeit he usually performs to a high one – Selby can find the extra gear necessary with the winning line in sight to emerge victorious at any cost.
His celebration at the end with an outpouring of emotion upon sinking the winning balls showed how much the triumph meant to him, and arguably demonstrated the level of respect he held for the challenge set for him by Ding.
There were many people on social media calling Selby’s repeated clenched fists and shouts of “Come on” disrespectful, which is utterly ridiculous considering the epic encounter that had just unfolded on one of the most highly pressurised centre stages in sport.
These are probably the same onlookers who moan every other day of the week about Selby being boring, which is similarly unfounded as he frequently produces levels of attacking snooker to match the most flamboyant of stars in the game.
That very mix of scoring prowess and tactical superiority is the reason why he’ll be a significant favourite to beat Higgins on Sunday and Monday despite the latter being able to boast considerably more ranking event trophies.
The Scot knows that he’ll have to raise his game possibly several notches if he is to have any opportunity of overcoming Selby in a world final for the second time.
Of course, it would be downright foolish to write the 41 year-old off completely, who becomes the oldest man since Ray Reardon in 1982 to reach the last two at the Crucible.
Higgins didn’t play well in his defeat of Barry Hawkins, struggling with tip problems and perhaps the occasion of being back in the single table set-up for the first time in six years.
However, if there’s one cueist who can match Selby in the safety stakes it’s Higgins, with both players shaped from a similar mould of playing style.
A Higgins triumph would see him tie O’Sullivan on five world titles and duly surpass his contemporary, along with Davis, to move alone into second place on the all-time ranking event winners’ list with 29.
One of the primary problems for Higgins will potentially be the stamina required to outlast a Selby who seemingly can never be outlasted.
It doesn’t matter whether he’s in front or behind, Selby, the master of brinkmanship, will inevitably find a way to at least ensure that he contends for glory.
Can Higgins maintain a highly driven and consistent level for four sessions? – this is the big question that we eagerly await the answer to.
The “Crucible Curse” isn’t in effect in this edition of the World Championship but Higgins might be hoping the “China Open Curse” plays a role in proceedings.
Selby, of course, won the penultimate ranking event of the season in Beijing earlier in April and no player has ever successively claimed it and the World Championship consecutively.
The last player to come this close to achieving the season-concluding double was Judd Trump in 2011, and who was to prevent the Englishman? A certain John Higgins.
The final between Higgins and Selby represents the fifth time they have met in the sport’s blue riband tournament, with three prior wins for the former.
Selby, though, enjoys a superior head-to-head record and will hold little fear despite his opponent’s credentials.
As fans and followers of the sport, our hearts cry out for a classic final that will go right down to the wire on Monday night.
Yet, our heads surely lean towards a victory for Selby which will act as a further stepping stone for him on his journey towards the pantheon of snooker greats.
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