Scottish Open final snooker – Mark Selby chases history and payback against Ronnie O'Sullivan
While Ronnie O'Sullivan managed to hang tough in a 6-4 win over Li Hang in the Scottish Open semi-finals, Mark Selby wallowed in three centuries in a 6-1 filleting of Jamie Jones. Selby says he is close to peak form as he seeks to equal Stephen Hendry's record of 11 straight ranking final victories – and payback following his 17-16 loss to O'Sullivan in their epic World Championship semi-final.
Published 13/12/2020 at 09:43 GMT | Updated 13/12/2020 at 10:06 GMT
Having narrowly escaped the hangman, Ronnie O’Sullivan aims to avoid double jeopardy as he chases a 38th ranking event triumph at the Scottish Open set against the backdrop of his ongoing cue tip travails.
The six-times defending world champion was 4-1 and 49-0 down against a seemingly unperturbed world number 37 Li Hang in the semi-finals on Saturday afternoon, but reeled off a trademark rash of five straight frames to complete a scintillating 6-4 win against the odds with rapid knocks of 84, 87, 93 and 59 classily complementing a 123 run in the third frame.
It was all rather surprising yet wonderfully predictable at the same time. Nothing the evergreen and remarkable Rocket Ronnie does on a snooker table ever makes complete sense.
Having looked out of sorts and toiling to bed in a fourth new tip of the week in Milton Keynes – he has been biting them off with more relish than a viking holding a ham hock – O’Sullivan regained the momentum like no other player in the world of snooker can.
Apart from perhaps the bloke who will be seated opposite him in the best-of-17 frame final at the Marshall Arena. Mark Selby was once dubbed "the torturer" by O'Sullivan – and he certainly knows how to inflict a particular brand of pain during a potting session.
It must be said, Selby was immaculate in his 6-1 dismantling of Jamie Jones in the second semi-final as the European Masters winner bulldozed his way into a second final of the season with breaks of 123, 128, 101, 53 and a closing 93 momentarily interrupted by his Neath opponent contributing 99 in the sixth frame to avoid a Welshwash.
The three-times world champion Selby is bidding to collect an 11th straight ranking event final triumph, a fearsome feat which would equal the record that Scottish icon Stephen Hendry set in the 1990s. Achieving such a moment against O'Sullivan would certainly sweeten the deal.
“I know Ronnie is still at the top of the game, but you don’t know how much longer he is going to play for. He is great for the game and a genius on the table,” said Selby, who is defending the title he won a year ago with a 9-6 win over Jack Lisowski in the final in Glasgow, a time before Milton Keynes suddenly became part of the Glasgow district of Milton.
O'Sullivan edges Selby in Crucible thriller
He is one of the all-time greats depending on what people say, whether it is Stephen Hendry or O’Sullivan. For me, I’d go Ronnie as the greatest ever. When you get the chance to play him, whether it is in the final or not, it is always a great occasion.
It can also be a galling one. The 18-times ranking event winner – who believes he is "very close to my best form" – has his own ghosts of Crucible past to contend with following a bruising world semi-final in August in Sheffield.
Having led 16-14 and seemingly on the cusp of the final with his tactical supremacy taking hold, O’Sullivan reeled off three frames as quickly as he changes tips with prodigious stands of 138, 71 and 64 enough to deny Selby at the death with an epic 17-16 victory.
The aftermath prompted much consternation from Selby about O’Sullivan walloping the ball to escape from snookers before winning the 30th frame to move two up with a possible three to play. Much of his criticism was borne out of frustration than fact.
"I just felt like it was obviously a bit disrespectful to me and the game,” commented Selby. "Obviously if you are playing anybody else, there’s not many players who will get down and just hit them 100 miles per hour when you put them in a snooker."
Ironically, Hang adopted a similar ploy during his defeat to O’Sullivan, who had no issue with it due to his perceived unfairness of the miss rule when trying to keep balls safe in escaping from a snooker.
On a weekend of world heavyweight boxing and Anthony Joshua's brutal ninth round KO of the dazed Kubrat Pulev, it was perhaps an apt analogy for O’Sullivan to compare his great rival to a prize fighter who never knows when he is beaten.
“If I play the way I have been, I’m not going to be involved in many thrillers. I’ve just been scraping away,” said O’Sullivan. “I’m not sure that is going to be good enough against Selby because he’s the best scrapper in the business.
“I have to try to bring some sort of game. Fluency to my game and composure, but I’m just happy to have a good week’s practice.
“If I play more tournaments over the next six months, I’ll be interested to see where my game is come the World Championship. I feel like a scientist, putting a few combinations together and see what comes out the other side.”
Mark Selby reacts after moving ahead of Ronnie O’Sullivan in the World Snooker Championship final session.
Image credit: Eurosport
O’Sullivan leads Selby 19-10 in their career head-to-heads, but Selby is also the only player to have usurped him in the finals of the World Championship, Masters and UK Championship. His 18-14 win over O'Sullivan in the 2014 world final from 10-5 behind largely condemned the Essex man to a six-year wait for his sixth Crucible gong.
It is astonishing to think their first meeting in a ranking event came in the 2002 China Open quarter-finals with Selby winning 5-3. Plenty of theatre has passed under the bridge hand since then.
While their saga is not a traditional grudge match, there is too much respect between the duo for that, their vastly opposing styles make it a natural clash of expression with perhaps a hint of enmity. Think Borg v McEnroe or Hunt v Lauda to get the general idea.
Selby is more methodical than O'Sullivan, who isn't you might suggest, but both can make haste while the sun shines, score heavily and exhibit exceptional tactical awareness. There is also always a healthy edge whenever they cross cues in combat.
Selby: Every time Ronnie misses, it's the tip's fault
With a slightly mocking tone, the figure known as the Jester from Leicester has his own take on O'Sullivan's tip tribulations.
"It's funny watching it. Every time he missed a shot it was the tip's fault," said Selby. "(Mine) is still on the end of my cue at the minute. I'll be keeping that one on for the Grand Prix unless I miss a few shots and then I could use it as an excuse!"
Watch: Selby rejects O'Sullivan fist-bump; plays rock, paper, scissors instead
Prior to the semi-finals, the six-times world finalist and Eurosport analyst Jimmy White felt O'Sullivan had little chance in the final if he was playing with a fresh tip for the first time. O'Sullivan suggests he had little option but to change after comparing his attempts to grip the ball in earlier rounds like putting a "pitchfork through concrete".
For a man who has been battling tips as much as the table, his win over Li Hang looks like the tip of the iceberg when he is faced with the colossal challenge of breaking up the green baize iceberg that is Selby.
How he tips the balance in his favour should make for compulsive viewing.
O'Sullivan v Selby last five meetings
Ronnie O'Sullivan 17-16 Mark Selby – 2020 World Championship semi-final
Ronnie O'Sullivan 5-1 Mark Selby – 2020 Welsh Open quarter-final
Mark Selby 5-4 Ronnie O'Sullivan – 2019 Scottish Open quarter-final
Ronnie O'Sullvan 6-5 Mark Selby – 2018 Northern Ireland Open semi-final
Mark Selby 10-7 Ronnie O'Sullivan – 2016 UK Championship final