So after 15 bruising, dramatic and at times emotional days in Sheffield we have our finalists. The Dafabet World Championship is now a straight fight between Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
They are two very different men and very different players but have the capacity to serve up a treat for the next two days, with a potential 35 frames to play and a record £300,000 going to the winner.
The obvious thing to say is that Selby has every right to be exhausted already having won what felt like the equivalent of a final against Neil Robertson, beating the determined Aussie 17-15 in their classic semi-final. Somehow the Leicester man has to pick himself up from that and compete with O’Sullivan from the off.
Selby failed to do so in his only other world final, against John Higgins seven years ago, when he fell 12-4 in arrears on the opening day, eventually losing 18-13. If O’Sullivan goes off into the distance then even the master of brinkmanship will struggle to cope.
A few years ago the prospect of playing Selby – a player he has nicknamed ‘The Torturer’ – would make O’Sullivan want to get in the car and go home. However, his mental focus is currently so strong that he is likely up for the challenge, as he was in beating Selby 10-4 in the Masters final in January.
Selby must play to his own strengths. He must try to frustrate O’Sullivan, put him under pressure and force mistakes. He must try to win.
From O’Sullivan’s point of view he must be patient, wait for his chances and not get frustrated. Every time he has been put under pressure in this tournament he has responded. He whole manner, on and off the table, has been business-like.
Whoever he plays, O’Sullivan is the man to beat. This is because he is the best player in the game, so Selby will have to produce probably his best ever performance to win the world title. If he does he will have my admiration, not just for having beaten O’Sullivan over two days but because it will be reward for the way he has supported the sport, the time he has given to people backstage, the humility he has shown in both victory and defeat.
But he’s up against it big time. The truth is, Ronnie is currently just too good for everyone when it really matters. He has walked a long journey in this sport, often through much turmoil and uncertainty, but right now is on a clear path, which leads only to victory - unless Mark Selby can do what no one else has done for three years and tame this incredible talent at the home of snooker.
THE FINAL: Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Selby
Sunday and Monday 2pm and 7pm
PREDICTION: O’Sullivan 18-12
Photographs by Monique Limbos.