13.4.10

CRUCIBLE COUNTDOWN: HIGGINS V O'SULLIVAN?

Only once in 33 stagings of the World Championship at Sheffield’s iconic Crucible Theatre have the top two seeds reached the final.

That was in 1987 when Steve Davis gained revenge over Joe Johnson for his defeat the previous year.

It’s a statistic that may point to disappointment for those hoping for a John Higgins v Ronnie O’Sullivan final this year.

Of course, they have played in a Crucible final before, in 2001. O’Sullivan won 18-14. Higgins, nice guy that he is, told him afterwards that he was pleased for his dad, who was incarcerated and thus unable to share in the celebrations.

The two are rivals but they are also friends. They got to know one another on the junior circuit at the end of the 1980s and, then as now, it was the colourful O’Sullivan who garnered most of the media coverage.

He was expected to win the under 16 title at Barry Hearn’s World Masters in Birmingham in 1991 but Higgins beat him and Mark Williams to serve notice of his own potential.

Since turning professional O’Sullivan and Higgins have mirrored one another’s achievements.

They each have three world titles, they’ve each been world no.1 and O’Sullivan has won 22 ranking titles to Higgins’s 21.

They could both achieve the milestone of compiling a century of centuries at the Crucible this year, something only Stephen Hendry has also accomplished.

O’Sullivan has made 93 Crucible tons. Higgins, despite having played there on two fewer occasions, has compiled 96.

O’Sullivan is around 150 centuries ahead in their respective careers and has made nine 147 breaks to Higgins’s five.

The respect between them is mutual and genuine. They each rate the other as favourite for this year’s Betfred.com green baize marathon.

I interviewed O’Sullivan last week for Eurosport and he said, “if John plays his A-game he’ll win it.”

In response, Higgins told me: “I’d say the same about him. He’s maybe saying that to take some pressure off himself but he’s the favourite.”

These two great players are both 34. Younger stars are yapping at their heels but are yet to overtake them.

Higgins was first to win a world title. He did so in 1998, ending a season in which he’d appeared in six of the eight ranking tournament finals.

The then 22 year-old Scot compiled 14 centuries – then a record – and simply blew everyone away.

Many expected him to dominate in the fashion Steve Davis and Hendry had. It wasn’t to be and it took him nine years to land the Crucible crown for a second time.

However, it took him only two more years to win it for a third and he has played so well for the last year that a fourth could follow come May 3.

O’Sullivan watched his great friend Jimmy White take part in a parade of former champions before the 2001 world final. Leaving aside the absurdity of this, it struck a chord with Ronnie who resolved never to feel the disappointment White had of failing to win a trophy his talents were worthy of.

He won it again in 2004 and for a third time in 2008. He feels his game has declined but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good enough to guide him to a fourth success.

The 2001 final was one of two times O’Sullivan has beaten Higgins at the Crucible. The other was far more controversial, coming after O’Sullivan was nearly thrown out of the tournament for a physical assault of a World Snooker official.

Higgins was left in limbo, not finding out whether he would even have to play a quarter-final until late the night before a 10am start.

He still led 10-6 and 12-10 but was beaten 13-12. Higgins got his revenge two years later by winning their semi-final 17-9, including a second session whitewash. He also beat O’Sullivan in the second round three years ago.

They’ve played on five occasions this season with Higgins winning four times, including the extraordinarily dramatic UK Championship semi-final, which he led 8-2 before scrambling through 9-8.

A Higgins-O’Sullivan final would be one to savour. Either one of them would be a worthy world champion.

But what would it say about snooker in 2010 that two players who have been professionals for 18 years are still at the top of the tree?

It might suggest that the younger players have not yet raised themselves to the standards required to pass the ultimate snooker test.

Or perhaps it would merely be proof of what everyone already knows: that John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan are two of the finest talents the game is ever likely to see.

28 comments:

snooker147blog.com said...

Great players and great rivalry, but I think none of them will get to the Final.

Anonymous said...

If RoS doesn't make the final then BetFred will seriously consider quitting as sponsors. Without Ronnie no-one wants to watch snooker. The game needs more characters like him to spark the fire in the public and get them watching again.

Richie Segal said...

Great article Dave, it was the quarter final three years ago when Higgins beat O'Sullivan

Trophymad said...

True words but I would prefer if this two wouldn't make it to the final for more than one reasons. One being my nerves that would undoubtedly riped apart by such a final. But two, and that's more important: We have a few young(er) players who must start running the sport. Makr Selby, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire... Ronnie and John won't play forever. And what happen's after they decided to retire? It's Neil, Mark, Shaun and Co who have to draw the crowds and keep the interest alive. So I'd love the young(er) once to run this years WCS...

Anonymous said...

did he get arrested for the assault?

CHRISK5 said...

A perplexing stat is - in the history of over 220 ranking events so far.

The Top 2 ranked players (not seeds) have met in a Final on only .....12 occasions!

The last of which was wayback in the 2000 UK Final when John Higgins & MJ Williams were the
Top 2 ranked players at the time.

Nobody seriously thinks that Ronnie & Stephen Maguire is going to be the Worlds Final in 2010.

The chances of John Higgins & Ronnie meeting in Finals next season in 2010/2011 - despite being the 'new' Top 2 - will be even slimmer with the provisional draw shaking up the usual fixtures.

And maybe afew more events with random draws like the World Open.

Ofcourse,all that conjecture is dependant on the possible politicking to come!

Claus Christensen said...

"Without Ronnie no-one wants to watch snooker"


"The game needs more characters"

Rubbish!

jamie brannon said...

Let's not forget though that Ronnie is clear on UK, Masters and all titles.

This would be the 'dream' final as they are still the benchmark for the game. I don't think it is bad for the game they are still at the top, I hope they both stay there, the game would be a little poorer without them.

The perfect scenario in the final would be Ronnie taking it 18-17 with a 147 in the decider!

Dave H said...

"Nobody seriously thinks that Ronnie & Stephen Maguire is going to be the Worlds Final in 2010."

Considering they're in the same half of the draw, I'd say you're right

jamie brannon said...

Interview with Ronnie on BBC SPORT website. Standard fare by and large, but he does feel that the young talent in Britain is not up too much at the moment and that in ten year's time we could see a Chinese top 16.

Anonymous said...

seems nobody knows if ronnie was arrested for the violent act...........

Thraxas said...

Interesting that the first and second seeds have only met once in the final. Was Jimmy White never seeded second in all the times he played Stephen Hendry there?

Anonymous said...

"If RoS doesn't make the final then BetFred will seriously consider quitting as sponsors."

Very true and well-informed, as evidenced by the fact that last year, when O'Sullivan went out in the second round, Fred Done's reaction was to make a public declaration that he already wants to extend the sponsorship beyond its current four-year term.

Meanwhile back on Planet Earth, a Higgins v O'Sullivan final is such an appealing prospect. The two best players of their generation, going into it tied on three world titles each - it could be the greatest final in many years.

It's one thing snooker has over so many other sports - whenever you get these "dream showdowns" in football for example, they often turn out to be a disappointment.

But a Higgins/O'Sullivan clash nearly always turns out to be a cracker.

And finally, when was the last time a world final was contested by the top two players in the provisional rankings (as would be the case if it was John and Ronnie)? The last one I can think of was Davis v Parrott 21 years ago - in fact, that may be the only time it's happened since the ranking circuit began.

Dave H said...

Perhaps surprisingly Jimmy was only world no.2 for two seasons, from 1987 to 1989.

Greg P said...

O'Sullivan vs. Higgins would be the biggest final since the days of Hendry and White's run of 4 finals in a row or whatever it was.

And yeah pretty much every match they've had this season was good, one of them was an epic, but I'm not going to get my hopes up too much because many times people have anticipated matches looking through the draw, and they didn't happen.

As a Ronnie fan I'll just be pleased if he somehow manages to scramble through to the semis, with all the big names in that quarter of death....

jamie brannon said...

Ronnie was not arrested I don't think. In his autobiography he gives a fair explanation as to why he did it, although he still shouldn't have. He particularly slags off Len Ganley in there.

Anonymous said...

there is no defending violent acts!!

Anonymous said...

Old Jamie is defending his hero against the indefesible again! If it was any other player he'd be demanding that action be taken as it was damaging the sport.
Get those blinkers off Jamie!!

jamie brannon said...

How is he still shouldn't have done it - a defence of his actions?

Anonymous said...

He should have been kicked out of the tournament, but you haven't got the gumption to offend your hero have you? Then again you didn't like O'Sullivan then did you as he wasn't the best in the world at the time? You were probably still supporting Hendry.

Anonymous said...

would LOVE to see a Higgins/O Sullivan final. The others just don't excite me as much. Perhaps Neil Robertson, and Mark Williams, now that he's playing a lot better than he has done for a while...

jamie brannon said...

To be honest I was ten at the time and at the time I don't remeber hearing about that. Im happy to take the stick about the switch, but it wasn't about silverware. I just realised that player I most enjoyed in full flow was Ronnie, so it seemed logical to want him to win as well. It was a tough and gradual decision - but I am comfortable with it.

Anonymous said...

given a fair explanation

there is no fair explanation Jamie

there is an explanation, which is a reason or excuse or whatever

it would never be fair

he acted like a thug and never got arrested, yet folk get arrested for less than that

and you have the cheek to say fair explanation, and that is why folk on here are getting at you!

Anonymous said...

if a player with "no character" and ranked between 33 and 64 had done all the things RON has done over the years i dont think hed still be allowed on the circuit.

thats what is wrong with WS. letting RON off with all the things he does because they fear the game wont survive without him....

that is a terrible attitude, because some day he will end up like white of A higgins and be average, or will stop playing entirely...so that day will happen and all WS are doing is digging a bigger hole by putting this man and his idiotic behaviour on a pedestal.

jamie brannon said...

If you read the book it was clear that Ronnie had some motive is all I'm saying, but that doesnt excuse his actions. People make mistakes - what he did is forgivable it was fourteen years ago. I don't think Mike Ganley still holds a grudge.

Anonymous said...

i never said it wasnt forgivable
i never said ganley still holds a grudge
time doesnt make the event less nasty
having motive for committing an assault isnt an excuse.

you really do need to take a good look at yourself and think before you post nonsense!

jamie brannon said...

Motive is sometimes an excuse say if you someone had robbed you of imortant stuff and you punched them, I wouldn't say that was definitely right to assault, but you wouldn't look on them that badly.

Anonymous said...

maybe you wouldnt, but that says more about you as a person.

we do not live in a lawless state.

your just digging an even deeper hole cos youve been found out AGAIN posting ridiculous stuff to try to defend your hero, the one who did the thuggish deed.

shame on you, as well as shame on him!!

btw, i think hes fantastic at snooker.