Selby will test resurgent Ronnie

Selby will test resurgent Ronnie

Morning all. As lockdown drags into its sixth month in Mexico City, I am having to get increasingly creative with my time. I have read several books, run several miles and won several league titles with Arsenal on Football Manager. This week, I have also started rewatching The Wire. What f***ing great show that is. If you have not yet seen it, I urge you not to live a day longer without doing so.

After writing about snooker twice over the past week, I had planned to focus on something else today. Golf has a bright new star after Collin Morikawa won his maiden major at the USPGA over the weekend. The Champions League is approaching its climax in the Lisbon bubble. And the 2020 Formula 1 season finally became vaguely interesting when Max Verstappen broke the Mercedes dominance at Silverstone on Sunday.

But I’ve now sat down and realised that snooker is the only thing I’ve watched for the past 10 days. So snooker it it shall be again. Apologies for any non-snooker fans out there, but you really only have yourselves to blame; you should like snooker.

I am not writing about snooker simply to fill the (virtual) page. The semifinals of the World Championships get underway today in Sheffield and there is a blockbuster on the cards. Three-time champion Mark Selby takes on five-time victor and long-time rival Ronnie O’Sullivan. In their first meeting at the Crucible since 2014, two of the most successful players of the past decade will battle it out for a place in the final. Given that the other semifinal will be contested by qualifier Anthony McGill and world number eight Kyren Wilson, its fair to say that the winner of O’Sullivan-Selby will be heavy favourite to lift the trophy on Sunday.

Its a fascinating match-up. On the one hand there is Selby. From 2013-2019, the 37 year-old started every season as world number one. During that period of dominance, he won three World titles, two UK titles and a Masters crown. At his best, his success is down to a deadly combination of ruthless tactical play, steely determination and heavy scoring. He suffocates opponents with an unparalleled understanding of the requirements of matchplay snooker, never choosing the wrong shot or offering up an easy chance.

These qualities come to the fore over the long-format matches, such as those contested at the Crucible. Over three or four sessions, he wears players down with brutal consistency and, more often than not, eventually they wilt. Indeed, he has won both matches against Ronnie at the Crucible, an 18-14 victory in the 2014 final and a 13-10 win in the quarterfinals four years earlier. The Rocket felt those defeats sharply and regularly speaks of the challenges posed by his rival. In his 2013 autobiography “Running,” Ronnie refers to Selby as “The Torturer.”

The man from Leicester has undoubtedly suffered a dip in form and confidence in the past couple of years. His scoring dried up and he dropped to number seven in the rankings. But, with the aid of new coach Chris Henry, he appears to have found his rhythm again this week. He was at his strangulating best in nullifying Neil Robertson in the quarterfinals and will be highly motivated in his first Crucible semifinal for three years.

On the other hand there is O’Sullivan. At 44 years-old, the Essex man will be comfortably the oldest semifinalist but he appears to have lost none of his powers. Indeed, he seems to be getting better. So far in the tournament he has looked more focused than in previous years, particularly in overwhelming Ding Junhui in the final session of their second-round clash and then reeling in Mark Williams after a slow start in the quarterfinal. He is scoring heavily, refusing to get drawn into safety exchanges and quickly putting misses to the back of his mind.

Perhaps he is taking a leaf out of the Roger Federer playbook. As he has aged Federer, who is greatly admired by O’Sullivan, has become progressively more aggressive. Recognising his inability to compete psychically with younger opponents, the Swiss has shortened matches in a bid to lengthen his career. He is not always on top form and so the odd surprise defeat creeps in, but he trusts that he can win if he plays his best. It appears O’Sullivan has also decided to trust his talent and blast his way through games. Long known for his speed around the table and his distaste for long-winded frames, he is playing with even more haste this year. And its working.

So who will come out on top? All things being equal, with both men at their best, Ronnie will surely win. His scoring power and ability to win a handful of frames in an hour is impossible for anybody to handle. But if O’Sullivan is slightly off his game, Selby certainly has the ability to grind his rival down.

Although O’Sullivan holds a handy 15-9 advantage when it comes to their career head-to-head record, Selby has tended to win the big matches and has won both of their previous encounters at the Crucible. I would love to see Ronnie come out and play to his best for all four sessions, but I just can’t see it happening. For that reason my money would be on the consistency of Selby. Just.

Right, that’s enough of that. I’m off to play some tennis. Have a great end to the week and see y’all on Friday.