Mark Selby and Ronnie O'Sullivan will do battle again
Mark Selby and Ronnie O'Sullivan will do battle again

Snooker betting tips: Ronnie O'Sullivan versus Mark Selby Players Championship preview


Old foes Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Selby renew hostilities in the quarter-finals of the Players Championship on Thursday night – Richard Mann previews the action.

Snooker betting tips: Players Championship

Over 9.5 frames in Ronnie O'Sullivan/Mark Selby match at 6/5 (General)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook


When you are the most decorated player in the history of your chosen sport, arguably any sport, with a career that has spanned over 30 years, it is inevitable that rivalries will emerge, and dissipate, over time. But, perhaps Ronnie O’Sullivan’s rivalry with Mark Selby has been the fiercest he has enjoyed.

It began with Stephen Hendry, a fresh-faced 17-year-old O’Sullivan stunning the Scot in the final of the UK Championship in 1993. Hendry would enjoy plenty of success against O’Sullivan thereafter, but he was a declining force by the time O’Sullivan routed him 17-6 in the semi-finals of the 2008 World Championship.

Fellow Class of 92 members Mark Williams and John Higgins would be the two names who O’Sullivan points to as his greatest rivals, of the same generation and still at the top of the game all these years on, but the Welshman won’t have talk of him being in the same bracket as his illustrious classmates, while Higgins is adamant that it's O’Sullivan first, the rest next.

The emergence of Judd Trump and his progression into a serial winner has been a breath of fresh air, and he and O'Sullivan have dominated the snooker landscape this season, sharing eight major titles between them. O’Sullivan won the day when they met in the final of the World Grand Prix in January, but Trump has been the only man capable of putting it up to an on-song O’Sullivan on a regular basis in recent years, and the head-to-head has them virtually neck and neck.

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That’s a rivalry in theory, but it has always felt strange comparing players who were born 14 years apart and the obvious mutual respect between the two makes it even harder. Their warm embrace at the conclusion of their 2022 World Championship final suggests rivalry is too strong a word for this pair – these are two of snooker’s greatest ever players, yes, but they clearly like and admire each other greatly.

With Selby, it has always been a little different. There has been needle from day one. Unlike others, Selby was never intimidated by O’Sullivan, never bowed to his whims, proved overawed by his style, and it made him an enemy of the Rocket’s protective fan base. That Selby didn’t seem to care made it worse.

In fact, Selby has always appeared to revel in playing the pantomime villain and he has never been afraid to call O’Sullivan out. When he lost a thrilling World Championship semi-final to O’Sullivan in 2020, in a tense deciding frame in which the latter had ridden his luck in the closing stages, Selby immediately said so. No please and thank yous here, O’Sullivan adopted the hit and hope approach as Selby ran rings round him in the safety exchanges and Selby told it how it was.

O’Sullivan’s name was on the trophy that year but another thrilling chapter to this great rivalry has been added and though the current UK Championship and Masters champion comfortably leads the head-to-head 21-11, Selby has more often than not made it count in the biggest matches.

The last final they contested came in Scotland in 2020 when Selby ran out a dominant 9-3 victor, and their previous final to that, at the UK Championship in 2016, also went Selby’s way. There have been wins over O'Sullivan in finals of the Masters and the World Championship, too.

Ronnie O'Sullivan won the World Grand Prix
Ronnie O'Sullivan is enjoying a stellar campaign

When it really counts, it’s rare that Selby doesn’t deliver against O’Sullivan. That doesn’t always guarantee success, of course, like when he lost 5-4 in the semi-finals of the Northern Ireland Open in 2018, but he’s always had the game to make it hard for O’Sullivan when playing well. It’s worth noting that in 2019, another match between this pair at the Scottish Open went the distance, Selby this time prevailing.

Selby will look to draw upon all of those good memories when he takes on O’Sullivan in the Players Championship on Thursday night, the Rocket already a short price to win title number five for the season as he continues his domination of the calendar.

Things have been less fruitful for Selby, but he did reach the final of the British Open back in October and also the last eight at the UK Championship and World Grand Prix. He’s not there yet, but there have been shoots of promise and he played well to beat Barry Hawkins 6-3 on Wednesday. As has so often been the case with Selby, the sight of spring on the horizon promises to bring about an upturn in his fortunes on the table.

I can’t believe Selby won’t make this competitive, particularly when you think that O’Sullivan has endured a few close shaves this season, namely at the UK Championship. He wasn’t at his best when beating Zhou Yuelong in his opening match here on Tuesday, and with a bit of needle never far away when these two meet, we could be in for a long night.

Selby on the handicap will appeal to some, but I’m happier backing OVER 9.5 MATCH FRAMES at 6/5. 6-4 either way will do for me, even if for these players, beating this particular opponent matters so much more.

Posted at 1105 GMT on 22/01/24


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