Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgns meet in the final of the Players Championship on Sunday – their first ranking final together since 2005 – and while the Rocket is concerned by the Wizard’s ‘evil’ game, they are both delighted to reignite their epic rivalry once again.
The two 45-year-olds have defied their age once again this week, looking absolutely superb on their runs to the final in Milton Keynes.
O’Sullivan’s 6-1 breeze past Jack Lisowski in the quarter-finals was imperious, while he has been forced to battle to wins against Ding Junhui and Barry Hawkins.
Higgins, though, has not been troubled at all, dropping just one frame en route to the showpiece, whitewashing Jordan Brown and Mark Selby before slipping up to the extent of only winning 6-1 againt Kyren Wilson in the semis.
The Scot’s victory over Selby was astonishing in that the Jester scored just seven points in the match and O’Sullivan was absolutely gobsmacked by John’s performance, to the extent that it was almost offensive.
‘I watched it mate, it was ridiculous,’ O’Sullivan told WST. ‘I couldn’t watch it in the end, it was so granite I couldn’t deal with it.
‘It was evil, it was evil! John just showed what a class player he is because obviously Selby is one of the best in the business at winning them type of matches.
‘But Higgins didn’t want it to end, it was ridiculous snooker, it was tough, probably the toughest match-play snooker I’ve seen in my life. Bordering on obscenely tough, how can you be that tough? Why would you want to be that tough? It was incredible snooker.
‘It’s not easy to play. It’s alright playing defensive snooker but you’ve got to play it well and John and Selby play it better than anybody.
‘If you can play it well then you play it. Me, it’s a waste of time playing that stuff, because I’ll do a lot of hard work 80% of the time then mess it up with one shot.
‘Those guys, they’re astute around that stuff. If John starts doing that to me I’ll be sat in that chair quite a lot.’
Higgins has not only been tying his opponents in knots in the safety department, but he has also had his scoring boots on to the tune of five centuries over the tournament.
A tweak to his technique, that has seen him move his tip closer to the cue ball when addressing it, has given him more control and soaring confidence in his game, even at the back end of his incredible career.
If he were to beat Ronnie in the final on Sunday, Higgins feels it would complete the best week of his career in terms of quality.
‘Of course this week would be right up there,’ John said after beating Kyren on Saturday night. ‘With the calibre of players I’ve beaten and beat pretty well with the way I’ve played.
‘To go on and finish the job, beating somebody like Ronnie in the final, this week would probably be the best snooker week quality-wise in my life. I would say that without a shadow of a doubt.’
The two superstars of the sport famously turned professional together in 1992 and Higgins still feels that playing O’Sullivan is the game he looks forward to most, all these years later.
‘Aye, [Stephen] Hendry was special as well because he’s Scottish and he was my hero growing up, but Ronnie for being the guy I turned professional with,’ said Higgins.
‘Obviously Mark Williams as well, a close second, but Ronnie is the whole package. Normally when the crowds are there it’s pretty partisan, it won’t be like that tomorrow but it will still generate something, especially in a final. It will be special again, hopefully.’
Higgins reached the final of the Masters in January, losing out to Yan Bingtao, and he was left wondering how many more big finals he would reach as he edges towards 50-years-old.
Playing like he is this week there will be no shortage of big games to come and he is enjoying being back to his best as he hunts down his first ranking title since 2018.
‘The way I’m playing just now I would be confident of being in a lot more finals,’ he said. ‘But as I’ve said over the last few years, the standard just now is ridiculous with the top boys.
The fact that this is the first O’Sullivan vs Higgins ranking final since the 2005 World Grand Prix has baffled onlookers this week, but also the two men themselves.
Presented with the fact, Ronnie told WST: ‘No. Last time I played John Higgins in a ranking event final was 2005? 16 years ago? I can’t believe that to be honest, that’s just insane.’
Higgins had a similar response, saying: ”Is that right? I’d never have thought that. That’s a mental stat, that….aye….that’s crazy.’
The level of snooker these two are producing is indeed insane, mental and crazy, and we are in for a treat when they lock horns once again on Sunday over two sessions at 1pm and 7pm.
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