Ronnie O’Sullivan and Shaun Murphy will meet in a final on UK soil for the third time this season at the Players Championship on Sunday.
The English pair emerged from contrasting semi-finals over the last couple of days to set up an intriguing season decider against one another.
Murphy took the honours first when he surprisingly overcame the “Rocket” to become the Champion of Champions in Coventry, before O’Sullivan gained revenge by sealing his record-equalling sixth UK Championship crown at the 35 year-old’s expense in December.
On Friday in Llandudno, O’Sullivan dug deep to fight back from the brink of defeat to beat Judd Trump in a 6-5 thriller but Murphy’s progress was much more controlled.
The 2005 world champion raced into a 3-0 lead against Mark Williams with stellar scoring, compiling breaks of 133, 117, and 70, before buffering his advantage until he eventually secured a 6-3 triumph over the Welshman and disappoint the home fans.
In an event that featured only the highest 16 money earners from ranking events during this campaign, it’s perhaps fitting that the showdown for glory will be contested between two of the most consistently in form competitors of this term.
While Murphy hasn’t actually captured a ranking event trophy since last year’s Gibraltar Open, the world number seven has come agonisingly close on three occasions with a hat-trick of runners-up cheques in his back pocket.
O’Sullivan, of course, has been the absolute standout performer in the last six months with victories in the English Open, Shanghai Masters, UK Championship, and World Grand Prix under his belt.
If the 42 year-old were to win on Sunday, he would become only the fourth player – after Stephen Hendry, Ding Junhui, and Mark Selby – to claim five ranking event titles in a single season.
Even though Murphy produced a stunning performance to deny O’Sullivan at the Ricoh Arena in November, it’s difficult to come up with a strong case for him coming out on top again against the biggest talent in the game who is in the midst of producing the best and most consistent form of his entire career.
Murphy has been quick to remind everyone the discomfort he is feeling as a result of his back injury, which forced him to pull out of his defence in Gibraltar and the subsequent Romanian Snooker Masters, so maybe he’s playing with the freedom that he has a suitable excuse to fall back on if he loses.
The “Magician” has looked in decent fettle on the table and, indeed, is enjoying one of his best seasons despite only picking up that single invitational trophy.
Murphy has the attacking prowess to take it to O’Sullivan when he is on his A-game but he’ll be desperate to get on top early because, if the latter takes the front, it’s likely to be a one-man show as was the case during their second session in York.
Like most players on the tour, Murphy’s overall record with O’Sullivan isn’t the best with only four wins from 14 clashes, albeit he has shared the last four encounters with one another.
O’Sullivan flippantly said earlier in the week that he was treating his matches as exhibitions but there’s no doubt that he’ll be taking this fixture seriously and he’ll want to reaffirm his dominance over an opponent who has expressed some choice words about him in the past.
It’s fair to say that O’Sullivan and Murphy aren’t cut from the same cloth and that rivalry could help make this an even more intriguing and memorable battle.
Live coverage on the Players Championship Final will be on ITV4.
Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)