Scottish Open snooker 2020: How Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Selby became best of enemies
Mark Selby claimed a record-equalling 11th straight win in a ranking event final with a 9-3 triumph against Ronnie O'Sullivan at the Scottish Open. We are now in the era of the big four in snooker with Judd Trump and Neil Robertson also competing for the main prizes, but there is no fiercer rivalry than the one between O'Sullivan and Selby, who ended up in a war of words beyond the baize.
Published 14/12/2020 at 19:52 GMT | Updated 14/12/2020 at 23:30 GMT
For the Jester from Leicester, the last laugh. Clutching his six-year old daughter Sofia after a 9-3 win over an oddly misfiring Ronnie O’Sullivan in a bad-natured Scottish Open final, Mark Selby lived up to his mischievous moniker as he discussed a slightly surreal victory with six-times world finalist and Eurosport pundit Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White.
“She said to me earlier, ‘Jimmy gave me ten pounds. I don’t know whether to spend it or frame it," he said.
Selby also enjoyed some black ball comedy after O’Sullivan touched down in the final having worked his way through four tips and six opponents – including two final-frame deciders against Tian Pengfei and Ding Junhui – while again complaining about his lack of a consistent cue action that brought him a sixth world title in August.
“If I was to choose to win a tournament, I’d probably want to play Ronnie in the final every time because he’s the best player to play the game,” said Selby, who joins world number one Judd Trump and UK champion Neil Robertson on 19 career ranking event victories. “Today, he didn’t play fantastic, but I didn’t play great, and probably need a new tip on. I’ll have a few days off and get back on the practice table.
“I could have played a lot better – it felt like I was searching for my cue action all day really.”
'Ridiculous' - Watch bizarre scenes over black between O'Sullivan and Selby
With no fans in attendance and the Marshall Arena haunted by Covid tests and men in muzzles, you might as well amuse yourself in such soul-destroying times. Which the two main protagonists did before the festive mood turned slightly sour in Milton Keynes.
For the world champion it was hardly a laughing matter as Selby gained a measure of payback for losing 17-16 to his old rival in an epic Crucible semi-final in August that saw the Rocket clamber off his seat to win the final three frames as quickly as he bites a tip off with glistening breaks of 138, 71 and 64.
Selby added to his European Masters success in September by making off with the Stephen Hendry trophy – and equalling the seven-times world champion's record of 11 straight victories in ranking finals set in the 1990s.
For O’Sullivan – who once described Selby as “the torturer” – it became a tortuous experience as he failed to score heavily enough with several obvious chances that came his way eluding his normally unflappable trademark break-building instincts.
Perhaps the tip torment tipped the balance in Selby’s favour. Who knows, but it was difficult to suggest the scoreline did not reflect the balance of power.
O'Sullivan complains to referee about Selby then misses red
“Sometimes the game can look easy, but sometimes it can be very hard,” said a philosophical O’Sullivan, who remains the most prolific ranking event winner of all time on 37.
There was also accusations of gamesmanship from both figures. Selby claimed O’Sullivan was chalking his cue to distract him early in the joust with the counter argument being made that Selby’s water bottle was playing up, if not his bottle.
Neither men could shake hands at the end, but neither did they appear in the mood to embrace when the balls stopped rolling. Nothing wrong with a bit of spice to liven up a snooker scene O'Sullivan said was devoid of characters last week.
“I’m playing a long red into the corner and he stood up,” explained Selby. “I could see him in my eyeline and just as I’m about to play the shot he started chalking his cue quite loudly.
“I got up off the shot and looked at him and he raised his eyebrows as if to say ‘sorry I didn’t realise I was doing it’.
But he knew exactly what he was doing and I managed to play the shot and potted it. I'm too long in the tooth for his antics and what he tries to do sometimes.
“I think that was because I was getting on top of him and he was getting agitated. He doesn’t like it if people compete with him.”
O’Sullivan retorted by asking the referee to intervene in the fourth frame when he claimed his rival was making noise with a water bottle.
“He thought I was chalking my cue and putting him off, but I wasn’t even in his eyeline,” said O’Sullivan. “I was in my chair when he was playing a safety shot. I found that a bit strange, so when he started doing that I thought ‘I might as well pull you up’.
“So I said ‘any chance you cannot do it when I’m on my shot?’ But there’s no issue between me and Mark, I think we have to thank each other for driving us to be better players.”
‘Selby is still to be beaten at the Scottish Open!’ – Selby defends title
All’s fair in love and a war of words.
While Selby performed with his usual level of concrete consistency, his victory was helped along by O’Sullivan missing his usual vital spark. He had several opportunities in the afternoon and evening sessions to reel in Selby, but missed key balls most notably a straight red in the eighth frame when on the cusp of closing to 5-3 behind and that proved a pivotal moment in the narrative.
It was perhaps a conclusion indicative of a match that was an anti-climax with no fans in attendance as O’Sullivan again broke down on 64 in the 12th frame before Selby cleared with 76 to trouser the £70,000 winner’s cheque.
For the record, Selby – who faces Liang Wenbo on Wednesday afternoon in his opener at the World Grand Prix – also contributed 102, 78, 77 62, 61, 56, 51 and 50 with his opponent running in 72, 62 and 58, modest by his mercurial standards.
Whether O’Sullivan's struggles were due to a lack of match sharpness or a lack of concentration is a moot point. It would be probably fairer to suggest it was a barren day at the office rather than a bad one as some of O’Sullivan’s output during the week was still strikingly good.
For large swathes of players on the World Snooker Tour, reaching a final is beyond their wildest dreams. At the age of 45, playing in fits and starts, O’Sullivan has washed up in two ranking finals this season, losing 9-7 to Trump in the English Open and Selby in the Scottish Open, a year when Milton Keynes became part of the Glasgow district of Milton.
O’Sullivan reveals why he played on for snookers with just black left
There is little wrong with his game at any level apart from the finer points of matchplay which can and will be put right in the forthcoming months one would suspect after he suggested he was in experimental mode following his 6-4 win over Li Hang having trailed 4-1 in the semi-finals.
“If I play more tournaments over the next six months, I’ll be interested to see where my game is come the World Championship," he said.
I feel like a scientist, putting a few combinations together and seeing what comes out the other side.
If there was a big four era in tennis when you consider the dominance of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray over a sustained period, snooker is now in the bridge hands of the big four.
World number one Trump has won the English and Northern Ireland Opens, Selby is the European Masters and Scottish Open champion, Neil Robertson picked up his third UK Championship last week and O’Sullivan is the world champion. For sustained brilliance, it is difficult to see beyond the million dollar quartet anytime soon.
Selby went into the final as a slight favourite on form, and those odds were justified with how the final unravelled as he was rarely flustered. Onwards and sidewards with the World Grand Prix starting on Monday in Milton Keynes and Robertson defending the title he picked up in February.
Never a dull moment for Rocket Ronnie, who can relax in the knowledge he has a first-round match at the World Grand Prix on Tuesday evening against his old Essex chum Ali 'The Captain' Carter, a qualified aeroplane pilot whose rivalry with O’Sullivan is arguably as fierce as the Selby saga.
Out of the fire and into the flying pan you might say.