For a while it looked as if Marco Fu might gatecrash the party, but in the end the Betway UK Championship has got one of the finals that many neutrals would have wanted in the shape of Ronnie O’Sullivan against Mark Selby.
Just looking at the two names whets the appetite for a long-distance contest over the best of 19 frames for the £170,000 first prize at York’s Barbican Centre today – and serves as a reminder of some of their previous high-profile clashes.
Although O’Sullivan, going for a record-equalling sixth UK title to match Steve Davis, claimed that he was “the underdog” on Saturday night, the bookmakers disagree – but not by much. The sheer weight of money O’Sullivan always attracts is probably the reason for him being a marginal favourite.
But Selby, who has the edge on his rival in overall finals and also the major ones, has the chance to stamp some more authority both on O’Sullivan and the sport in general after being world No1 for 94 weeks in a row.
John Higgins may have been winning the big invitational tournament money in the last month, but the 33-year-old Selby has now been top of the rankings for nearly two years and already seems likely to stay there until the World Championship. Victory would only make that more probable.
O’Sullivan defends an astonishing 100 per cent record in UK finals having won five from five, the first coming in 1993 as a 17-year-old. But it was Selby who ended a similar world final record for the Rocket at the Crucible two years ago. And there have also been big wins for the Leicester Jester in a Masters final, and a Welsh Open showpiece.
There has unquestionably been needle between the pair in the past, created partly by a clash of styles, and O’Sullivan commenting on this in less than flattering terms about Selby’s play – notably in his autobiography when he branded his rival ‘The Torturer’.
But much like in the case of a similar stand-off with Stephen Hendry many years ago, O’Sullivan insists that the relationship has thawed following a number of joint exhibitions and tours abroad, when it is hard for two players not to spend a deal of time together.
O’Sullivan dropped as many frames against Fu as he had in the previous five matches, and was in truth lucky to win through, the Hong Kong player blowing a great chance to wrap up victory at 6-4 before missing a vital green and seeing the Rocket mop up with 130 in the decider.
But both O’Sullivan and Selby are chasing history today. While O’Sullivan tries to equal one of boyhood hero Steve Davis’s marks and also claim a 29th ranking title that would edge him ahead of the Nugget and John Higgins, Selby also has targets.
He can become the first player for 15 years to win the world and UK titles in the same calendar year, something done only by Davis, Stephen Hendry, O’Sullivan, John Higgins and John Parrott. And a similarly small group have won each of the big three on two or more occasions.
It promises to a great final and contest – in the past such showpiece occasions between the pair have rarely disappointed.