Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins will meet for a record-equalling 68th time when they clash in the quarter-finals of the Players Championship on Friday.
O’Sullivan and Higgins emerged from difficult opening fixtures at the Preston Guild Hall with 6-4 triumphs over Barry Hawkins and Mark Selby respectively.
The duo, both 43 and members of the fabled “Class of 1992” alongside current world champion Mark Williams, first encountered each other as professionals at the 1994 Dubai Classic.
O’Sullivan prevailed on that occasion and boasts the superior head-to-head record from all of their previous 67 battles.
A total of 35 matches have gone the way of the “Rocket”, Higgins has enjoyed success on 29 occasions, while there have been three draws.
According to respected anorak website CueTracker, tomorrow’s encounter will match the tally of duels amassed by Steve Davis and Jimmy White over a 31-year span between 1979 and 2010.
Like those two legends, numerous ties between O’Sullivan and Higgins have proven to be high-profile affairs with significance, and often silverware, at stake.
With nine world titles accumulated between them, Higgins has faced O’Sullivan in a record 17 finals – including in the 2001 World Snooker Championship that the latter triumphed in for his maiden Crucible glory.
One of their other memorable title deciders transpired five years later when, in the last Masters to be staged at the old Wembley Conference Centre, Higgins compiled a remarkable 64 clearance to pinch victory on the black in a dramatic final frame.
Despite being well into their third decades on the Main Tour, O’Sullivan and Higgins have consistently remained elite players at the highest echelons of the sport.
This has undoubtedly been highlighted by the fact that the majority of their clashes end up taking place in the latter stages of tournaments.
Indeed, only once since 2009 has a meeting occurred prior to the quarter-finals – the same point at which they will lock horns on this occasion.
The current fortunes of O’Sullivan and Higgins couldn’t be much different, though.
While the former has already captured three big titles this campaign, Higgins has struggled for form and confidence since his second successive Crucible final defeat last May.
That said, the “Wizard of Wishaw” has been somewhat galvanised since reaching the last eight of the Welsh Open last month, following it up with a run to the semi-finals of the Indian Open a few days ago.
Victory over world number one Selby, in which he won the last three frames, will have instilled him with further confidence.
O’Sullivan will of course be the favourite but anything is possible when two players of this degree of permanent class come together.
Mark Selby in the first round, Ronnie O’Sullivan in the next…
It’s not getting any easier for the Wizard of Wishaw, but is he worried?
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) March 6, 2019
The first Players Championship quarter-final bout was completed on Wednesday evening as the in-form Judd Trump came from 5-2 down to stun best mate Jack Lisowski in a decider.
Trump, the World Grand Prix champion last month, is the front-runner in the inaugural Coral Cup race having gone unbeaten in the series so far.
Neil Robertson plays Mark Williams and Mark Allen faces Stuart Bingham in the other two matches, scheduled for Thursday.