It’s experience against youth in the title decider for the 47th edition of the competition.
John Higgins will face Yan Bingtao in the final of the Masters at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes on Sunday.
Both players emerged from tough semi-final battles on Saturday to set up a showdown against one another for the Paul Hunter Trophy and a champion’s cheque worth £250,000.
Higgins won the last two frames to edge David Gilbert 6-4 while Yan endured the distance again in a 6-5 defeat of defending champion Stuart Bingham.
For Yan, it was his third deciding-frame victory in a row this week, emulating Mark Selby’s memorable run to the final in 2008.
Selby was making his first Masters appearance that year and went on to comfortably triumph in the final, so debutant Yan will be hoping that history repeats itself.
The 20 year-old has also become the youngest player to reach a Masters final since fellow Chinese cueist Ding managed the feat as a 19 year-old in 2007.
Yan, the 2019 Riga Masters winner, incredibly wasn’t even born when Higgins collected the first of his two Masters titles back in 1999.
The Scot has reached the last two for the fifth time in his career – 26 years after his first appearance and 15 years since last winning the prestigious crown.
The 45 year-old hasn’t won an individual piece of silverware in almost three years and is bidding to add to his tally of nine Triple Crown titles.
Victory for Higgins would see him complete the career set of World, UK, and Masters crowns for a third time.
Yan, of course, is after his maiden success at this level after demonstrating a never-say-die attitude on the baize during this edition of the event.
The former world amateur champion and World Cup winner has played very well at times and, perhaps more importantly, has dug deep when it has mattered most at the crunch time of his matches.
Yan appears to boast the kind of all-round game and temperament that will see him challenge for major honours for many years to come.
Indeed, his style is somewhat reminiscent of Higgins in his heyday, and it was interesting that Yan confidently said he wanted to face the four-time world champion when asked in his post-match interview who he would rather compete against in the final.
Yan has challenged Higgins on six previous occasions in all competitions and boasts an even head-to-head record against the former world number one.
Intriguingly, the youngster prevailed in their last two meetings, including at the 2019 UK Championship in the quarter-final stage.
Yan becomes the first player born in the 2000s to reach the Masters final – to put that into context, only one player born in the 1990s has done it before (Kyren Wilson).
— Matt (@ProSnookerBlog) January 16, 2021
A Masters final, however, is a much more daunting prospect and Higgins will surely begin as the favourite for glory.
The 45 year-old didn’t quite play as well against Gilbert as the elevated level he managed to produce against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the last eight but possesses superior experience and would, in fact, become the oldest Masters champion if he were to complete the job.
Higgins has been written off countless times as though his tenure at the top of the sport has come to an end, but his ability to keep bouncing back time and time again is one of the reasons why he’s rightly regarded among the all-time greats.
The “Wizard of Wishaw” will look to wield his magic and assert dominance on the affair from an early point, but there’s every chance that he too will feel the pressure of the moment – especially as he hasn’t won a Triple Crown tournament for almost a decade.
If Higgins settles quickly it will be hard to see him failing to etch his name onto the trophy, but Yan has already underlined his battling qualities and the lack of a crowd inside the arena may work in his favour as well.
Either way, it promises to be a fascinating battle in what is a race to ten to determine the champion.
Live coverage is being provided by Eurosport and the BBC across Ireland and the UK, with further broadcasts also available around the world.
Click here to view the full draw (Times in CET)
Featured photo credit: WPBSA