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UK Championship Final: Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Shaun Murphy

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Shaun Murphy will contest the UK Championship final on Sunday at the Barbican Centre in York.

Murphy O'Sullivan (ML)

Murphy and O’Sullivan have had numerous battles at the Crucible. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

It marks a repeat of their recent Champion of Champions showdown for glory in Coventry, which Murphy upset the odds in to defeat the “Rocket” 10-8.

The pair hasn’t always seen eye to eye, with several jabs especially thrown by Murphy in the past, but the 2008 UK champion has made a public effort to cool the animosity in the last couple of months.

Then, while this match will still be regarded by many as a grudge encounter between two rivals who will probably never see eye to eye completely, there is at least a mutual respect building.

That said, O’Sullivan wouldn’t have taken lightly to being pipped to success at the Ricoh Arena in a final many expected him to prevail in, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him fired up in an effort to gain a modicum of revenge for that defeat.

The 42 year-old, attempting to capture a record-equalling sixth UK crown to match Steve Davis’ long unmatched total, boasts a considerably superior head-to-head record over Murphy – but the latter has emerged victorious in two out of their last three encounters.

The duo overcame hard-fought challenges in the semi-finals on Saturday with O’Sullivan withstanding a commendable fight back from Stephen Maguire to beat the Scotsman 6-4.

Murphy, meanwhile, held off Riga Masters champion Ryan Day with a 6-3 scoreline.

A significant portion of the first half of this season has centred around either Murphy or O’Sullivan, so it’s perhaps fitting that they will round off the year’s final Triple Crown major grappling for the silverware.

This run represents Murphy’s third ranking event final of the campaign having already been denied in the finals of the China Championship and the Paul Hunter Classic in the summer, before his crowning moment in the invitational Champion of Champions.

O’Sullivan is likewise making it a hat-trick of final appearances in ranking tournaments but, in contrast, won the other couple he competed in at the English Open and the Shanghai Masters.

Victory for the former world number one would mark the second time in his career that he would claim three ranking successes in a single season.

In the 2004/2005 campaign, O’Sullivan triumphed in the Grand Prix, the Welsh Open, and the Irish Masters.

As well as falling short in the showdown against Murphy in November, O’Sullivan was also runner-up in the Hong Kong Masters – an eight-man lucrative invitational – in July so it really has been a terrific term so far for the five-time world champion.

O’Sullivan will undoubtedly begin today’s battle as the favourite but it would be foolish to completely write off Murphy either.

A lot will of course depend on the opening exchanges with the “Magician” likely needing to at least stay in contact early on and not let himself fall too far adrift at any stage.

O’Sullivan arguably hasn’t been in top form throughout this championship but that will count for little now that the £170,000 top prize is within his grasp.

The Englishman has proven time and time again what a powerful front-runner he can be, not least in this very event when he destroyed Ken Doherty and Stephen Maguire 10-1 and 10-2 in the 2001 and 2007 finals respectively.

But O’Sullivan isn’t oblivious to feeling the pressure when proceedings are closer so Murphy will be well aware that if he can put it up to him, like he did last month, he can give himself the opportunity to land a fourth major trophy of his career.

O’Sullivan, indeed, is bidding for an astounding 18th Triple Crown title, a number that would bring him level with Stephen Hendry’s all-time leading tally.

A packed crowd will be expected to give the players a rapturous reception with the Barbican Centre again providing a terrific backdrop this week to the sport’s second biggest ranking event.

Who’ll be raising the trophy aloft amid the cheers and adulation this evening, we await eagerly to find out.

Live coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)

Creator of SnookerHQ and a journalism graduate, David has been actively reporting on snooker since 2011. He has been published in national publications and has appeared on BBC World News and on talkSPORT radio as an analyst.