Four have become two in the quest to land this year’s Dafabet World Snooker Championship.
It’s Ronnie and it’s Mark. On Friday night, the Rocket fired into something approaching top gear and was clinical in dispatching last year’s finalist Barry Hawkins with a session to spare. He will surely have enjoyed his day off yesterday as Mark Selby and Neil Robertson battled throughout it for the right to play him. In the end, the Jester from Leicester, Mark Selby, who had only gone behind twice in the match, prevailed 17-15 in a match that lasted just over twelve hours. I said on Friday this match could easily have been the final and the two men served up a proper Crucible epic. The only thing missing was a midnight final frame decider.
It feels as though much will depend, over the next two days, on how quickly Mark Selby will be able to recover from his exploits over the last two days. He can’t afford to go in against the Rocket at anything less than his best. Obviously, Selby knows this better than anyone else having seen his Masters hopes obliterated in the time it took Ronnie to establish a 7-1 lead in this year’s final. Now, the best of 35 format here clearly gives a player time to recover from a bad session but it’s difficult to see Mr O’Sullivan dropping too many sessions 6-2, 7-1 or even 5-3. Not the way he’s playing.
He comes into the final having won his quarter final- as well as the aforementioned semi- with a session to spare. To do that against the likes of Hawkins and Shaun Murphy speaks to a man, if not at the top of his game, than quite close to it. And he’s improved as the tournament has gone on, since his wake up call from Joe Perry. On the other side of the table, Mark Selby has had to battle throughout the tournament, apart from his own quarter final, 13-5, win against “Angles” McManus. Neil Robertson had to be scraped off the table, Ali Carter was no easy touch and Michael White took Selby to a final frame decider. Having seen a bit more of Selby than Ronnie this year, it also seems as though Selby has improved as the tournament has gone on.
The Jester from Leicester kind of won my and Jo’s hearts as he came through to the final 7 years ago as a qualifier. Having been utterly outclassed in the early part of that final against John Higgins, he battled right back into it- the first glimpse of the fighting qualities that make him so hard to beat now. In the end, it was only a rerack and a lucky snooker off Higgins break off shot that did for him. Against anyone else, I would love to see Mark Selby add the last of snooker’s big three to his trophy cabinet. But not today, not against the Rocket.
Ok, Ronnie has won everything that there is to win in today’s game, and done so multiple times- there has to be room for someone else at the top. It’s just hard not to feel, when you’re watching him in action, that you’re watching a once in a lifetime kind of player. I remember my mum loving Alex Higgins when I was a kid and that guy, clearly, could play some shots. Ronnie has the shots, but he’s as tactically astute as Steve Davis. And, as he has become older and wiser, that combination has seen Ronnie develop into the ultimate match player. As his third world final in a row testifies. I just want to see that brilliance rewarded. And a sixth world title, taking the Rocket level with the legend, Steve Davis would be some reward indeed.
Every fibre of my being says he will do it, but I find it very, very difficult to write off the chances of Mark Selby just yet. A gripping first session, and final, awaits us.