Around the tournaments, in the bars, and even the players’ rooms, there is a prevailing wisdom that crops up more than any other single viewpoint about the relative standard of today’s game.
And it goes like this. The strength in depth, with players right the way down the rankings capable of stringing big breaks together, has never been higher. This means fewer easy matches early on in tournaments, no room for complacency from the leading lights.
But the other side of it concerns the very best, and many believe that Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams and John Higgins in the late 1990s were better than their top-four equivalents today.
With Higgins currently at No3, let us say for the sake of argument that we are comparing those four to Mark Selby, Stuart Bingham, Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy, actually listed at five this week.
Selby couldn’t be doing much more than he is to change this perception. The Masters sees him at world No1 for the 101st week in a row, a phenomenal achievement and a sequence unlikely to be broken any time soon.
The 33-year-old, arriving at Alexandra Palace as reigning world and UK champion, exudes the confidence of a man at the absolute peak of his powers – confident, fulfilled on and off the table, and building up the kind of aura that frightens opponents and gives a player easy frames.
His lead of approaching £500,000 at the top of the ranking prize-money list is almost unheard of, and as Selby rattled in a fluent break of 139 on Wednesday afternoon against Williams you were left thinking he must surely have won over anyone still carping about his ‘style of play’.
No one wants to play Selby in a deciding frame at the Masters, where over the years he has such a superb record of somehow getting through such shootouts. But Williams almost pipped him, denied principally by a savage kick on a blue when well set. One clutch clearance of 89 from Selby later, and Williams was back in the pavilion, and Selby through as a 6-5 winner.
And it was in the aftermath of this last-16 clash in north London that Williams was asked about Selby’s current form, and where he might stand in that comparison with Hendry and the class of 1992 in their pomp.
The fact that the Welshman paid such a generous tribute to Selby within minutes of having himself been dealt such a cruel and undeserved blow in the deciding frame made it all the more heartfelt and pertinent.
Two-time Masters winner Williams, 41, said: "You see all the other players, Ding, Trump, Robertson, they are excellent players but they are not in this fella’s league just at the moment. He is miles above them.
“And he could be world No1 in any era, going back 20 or 30 years, or 20 or 30 years from now. He is good enough, and has everything. And he is a lucky ****!
“But seriously Mark is the only one in my opinion of the current top four or five, John excepted because he is still there, that could push to jump into that four you are talking about.
“Out of anyone playing now he is the only one that would have stood a chance of regularly challenging us four at that time. It would still be difficult, but he would have a chance.
“In this match you have to say it was a great break from Mark to win it, however sick I was about the kick.
“He played fantastically well, that’s why he is world No1 and he is a class act on and off the table. You can’t have a better player to represent our sport.”
Photography courtesy of Monique Limbos