Two former world champions will battle for the £500,000 top prize.
Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy will contest the 2021 Betfred World Snooker Championship final on Sunday and Monday at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
The pair of Englishmen showed grit, style, and resilience in fighting back from big deficits to overcome their respective semi-final opponents on Saturday.
At one point, Murphy trailed Kyren Wilson 10-4 but a monumental and passionately charged comeback saw him transform that by winning 13 out of the remaining 15 frames.
A fist-pumping Murphy played to his attacking strengths, thumping in one long pot after another, including a thunderous black in the 20th frame that set the tone for his terrific turnaround.
The Magician compiled breaks of 120, 117, 91, 78, 77, 76, and 58 in winning the last eight frames against a visibly shell-shocked Wilson, last year’s runner-up.
Selby, by contrast, relied on all of his brinkmanship mastery to prevent what could have been a repeat of the 2015 title-deciding showdown between Murphy and Stuart Bingham.
When the latter led Selby 12-9 during the third session there appeared to be only one outcome, but the Jester is infamous in his tendency to have the last laugh.
Selby crucially won two out of the remaining three frames of the penultimate session to stay in touch, and then dominated a lengthy and interrupted final bout of play to prevail in a nail-biter, 17-15.
After 15 days of action at the Crucible Theatre then, and an additional ten in the qualifiers in Sheffield, it has come down to the last two with the coveted trophy on the line.
Selby and Murphy share a long history dating right back to their amateur days in the game, and they have been ever-presents at the higher echelons of the sport for almost two decades.
With seven previous appearances in a World Snooker Championship final between them, the duo certainly boasts a lot of experience on snooker’s biggest stage.
Murphy is bidding to add to his breakthrough triumph as a qualifier 16 years ago, and the 38 year-old will attempt to avoid the heartaches he suffered at the last hurdle in both 2009 and 2015.
Selby has won all three of his finals since being denied on his maiden journey in 2007 – raising the silverware aloft in 2014, 2016, and 2017.
In victory, the 37 year-old would become only the sixth player in the modern era to be crowned champion of the world for a fourth time – after Stephen Hendry, Ray Reardon, Steve Davis, Ronnie O’Sullivan, and John Higgins.
Murphy and Selby first encountered each other on the Main Tour 20 years ago at the 2001 British Open, with the former edging a tight contest 5-4.
This World Snooker Championship final tie will mark their 40th meeting in all competitions since then, with Selby narrowly boasting the superior head-to-head advantage overall.
The former world number one, who with success would close to within striking distance of Judd Trump at the top of the world rankings list, is undoubtedly the favourite for glory.
Selby possesses the kind of all-round game and killer temperament that is tailor-made for the longer matches at the Crucible Theatre.
However, Murphy did demonstrate his own newly acquired battling qualities in hanging on at various important junctures of his last four fixture against Wilson.
The Triple Crown member may have wrapped up the victory in a swashbuckling manner, but it was the grind of his patient and improved safety play – harnessed from hours of practice among the like of Fergal O’Brien in Dublin – that proved the difference in his refusal to wilt when his back was firmly against the exit barriers.
After a couple of taxing three-day semi-finals – with both finishing late on Saturday evening – the ability to recharge the batteries in time for another marathon encounter will be key.
Murphy ran out of gas against John Higgins in the 2009 final, and it goes without saying that he could do without having a slow start again like the one he endured against Wilson in the last four this year.
Selby, on the other hand, is a formidable figure who would never accept defeat until the opposing protagonist’s name is fully engraved on the trophy.
The crowd, which will be at full capacity for the World Snooker Championship final, could play an important role as well, and there is certain to be a spine-tingling atmosphere as the players are introduced prior to their gladiatorial tussle.
Who emerges victoriously? We are a potentially epic 35 frames away from finding out.
Featured photo credit: WST