I was watching Roger Federer defeat Rafael Nadal recently in the Australian Open tennis final. It was a great match and whilst I was sitting there watching them battle it out I thought what a great rivalry they have. It made me think about the great rivalries we have had in snooker over the years. Here are my 5 favourites in no particular order.
Ray Reardon versus John Spencer
Ray Reardon and John Spencer had a long rivalry going back to their amateur days in the 1960s. Reardon won the world title in 1970 and would finish with 6 titles to his name. Spencer won 3 world titles in 1969, 1971 and then in 1977. The two of them dominated the 1970's along with Alex Higgins. Some would say that Spencer was the better potter and break builder but at the same time Reardon was one of the greatest ever safety players.
When they are compared head to head there is very little in it. However Reardon did tend to win the big matches at the World Championship. He won tight matches in 1973, 1977 and 1982 although Spencer won the 1975 Masters final on a deciding frame. In later years, during the 1980's, Spencer often won but by then both were past their best.
Steve Davis versus Alex Higgins
Davis versus Higgins was the ultimate clash of styles. Higgins was instinctive, exciting and emotional whilst Davis was the calm, calculated potting machine. In their first major meeting Higgins played superbly to beat Davis 13-9 in their 1980 World Championship quarter final. However after this Davis started to inflict heavy defeats on Higgins. He beat him 16-6 in the 1980 UK final and 16-5 in the 1983 world semi final.
In the 1983 UK championships they met again in the final. Davis led 7-0 and looked to be heading for another huge win. However Higgins stormed back and took the title by 16 frames to 15. This may have laid the foundation for Davis' defeat in the 1985 world final when he led Dennis Taylor by a huge margin.
Davis gained his revenge the following year by hammering Higgins 16-8. After this Higgins did win a few matches against Davis but he was near the end of his career. Davis would continue to dominate the sport until Stephen Hendry came along.
Stephen Hendry versus Jimmy White
In many ways Stephen Hendry should have had a great rivalry with Steve Davis. However although they met in 2 great UK finals they never played each other in a world final. The big rivalry when it came to the world championships in the early 1990's was Hendry against White.
White had been expected to win multiple world titles but his late nights and rock and roll lifestyle had put paid to that. White was at his peak in the early 1990's and many people said that these next few years would be his best chance to win.
Hendry had based his game on White who was his childhood hero. However he decided fairly early on in his career that if he wanted to win he needed to cut out playing to the crowd.
In 1990 White managed to defeat Steve Davis in the semi finals at the crucible and many thought he would go on to win the title. Hendry had different ideas and out potted him in the final to win the first of 7 world titles. In 1992 they met again. White had played brilliantly throughout the championship, making a maximum during his opening match. In the final he led for most of it. However Hendry refused to buckle and continued to play his attacking game even under extreme pressure. Eventually his best game came through and he won 10 consecutive frames to win 18-14.
1993 was a far easier affair. Hendry was at the top of his game whereas White couldn't believe he made it to the final. The result was an easy win for Hendry. In 1994 they made the final again. It was nip and tuck throughout and eventually went to a deciding frame. White got in with the balls open but he missed a black and Hendry cleared to win. White never made another world final although he did beat Hendry in the first round of the worlds in 1998 before losing to a young Ronnie O'Sullivan in the quarters.
A Hendry/White rivalry dominated the world championship in the 1990's and the fact that White was the people's champion made it even more special. This was no more true than when they met at the Masters in London. The atmosphere was always amazing with huge support for White. In terms of careers White still plays but will always feel he has underachieved whereas Hendry has won more ranking events than any other player and is regarded by some as the greatest player ever.
Ronnie O'Sullivan versus John Higgins
In the early 1990's 3 future greats all turned professional. Mark Williams from Wales, John Higgins from Scotland and Ronnie O'Sullivan from England. Higgins and O'Sullivan have gone on to dominate the game until the last few years.
O'Sullivan is the bad boy of the game. He always seems to be in trouble and is always causing controversy with his views or his actions. Not surprisingly he is the game's most popular player especially given the way that he plays the game so fluently and with so little effort.
Higgins is the ultimate professional. Having said this he did get a ban and fine for not reporting an approach to fix matches. Higgins won his first world title in 1998 and I actually think he might have gone on to dominate the game. However he lost in 2 high quality world semi finals in 1999 and 2000 and then O'Sullivan beat him in the 2001 world final. He did go on to win the world title in 2007,2009 and 2011.
Overall they are closely matched. However O'Sullivan has won more majors than Higgins with 7 masters titles, 5 world titles and 5 UK titles. Higgins has 4 world titles, 3 UK titles and just the 2 masters. Despite this Higgins has won 2 of their best matches. In the 2005 Grand Prix Higgins destroyed O'Sullivan and made consecutive breaks of 103,104,138 and 128 to win 9-2. Later in the same season O'Sullivan led in the deciding frame of the 2006 Masters. However Higgins made an amazing clearance to snatch the title.
Despite both of them being near the top of the game for the last twenty years they are still fighting for the big tournaments and both of them have won titles this season.
Ronnie O'Sullivan versus Mark Selby
Mark Selby against Ronnie O'Sullivan is the big rivalry of the modern game. I think that when Mark Selby first appeared most people were scared of playing O'Sullivan. Selby was different in that he didn't appear scared but seemed to love the whole occasion. He also has a great all round game which works well against O'Sullivan.
Head to head O'Sullivan leads but the gap is closing and Selby tends to win many of the big finals. Despite O'Sullivan's reputation as a great front runner Selby has produced some great comebacks and in the 2014 world final he came from 10-5 down to beat O'Sullivan 18-14. More recently in the 2016 UK final they both produced amazing snooker with 3 centuries each but again Selby came through 10-7.
I think we will see some more great games between these two before O'Sullivan reaches the end of his career.
I hope you enjoyed my choice of great snooker rivalries. I am sure you will have your own opinions. Please comment.
Ronnie O'Sullivan defended his Masters title with victory over Joe Perry on Sunday night. I still think that O'Sullivan is nearing the end of his career but the Masters is the ideal tournament for him. It is close to his home in London and so he doesn't have to do much travelling or staying in hotels. I think the fact that the matches are mainly the best of 11 also suits him. He also likes the fact that he is playing top players in a large arena rather than players he has never heard of in a small venue. To be honest the tournament was made for him and the fact he has now won it 7 times proves it.
Despite the win it wasn't his best snooker for most of it. At the beginning of the tournament I looked at the draw and thought he would do well to win it as he was in the more difficult half of the draw. Liang Wembo should have beaten him in the first round but he missed his opportunity. In the next round he faced Neil Robertson but Robertson is not the player of a few seasons ago and is struggling. Marco Fu played well in the semi finals but the odd mistake cost him. O'Sullivan played some good snooker against Fu. Then in the final O'Sullivan just had too much big match experience and once he got level with Perry there was only one winner.
So O'Sullivan is the master again and unless they change the format or move the event I think he has another one or two titles in him yet. However the World Championships is very different and I think he will have to play a lot better to win in Sheffield.
Marco Fu had to get beaten eventually and it was Ronnie O'Sullivan who beat him when they met in the Masters semi finals. It was a great match with O'Sullivan eventually coming out a 6-4 winner. A big turning point was when Fu missed a red with the rest when he could have gone 2 frames clear. After O'Sullivan had drew level you felt that he had missed his chance to reach the final and so it proved. Personally I thought Hawkins might have given O'Sullivan a tough game in the final. However Joe Perry staged a Harry Houdini escape to come from needing a snooker to winning the match in a decider. It was an amazing match but it must have taken it out of Perry emotionally.
A big talking point in the Marco Fu / Ronnie O'Sullivan match was O'Sullivan's cue tip. He seemed to be struggling with it and so the interval was called after 3 frames and he changed it. Now I am sure Marco Fu was asked if he was happy about changing the interval but I don't think many players would have said no even if they weren't happy.
I am only going with the information that I know but from what I saw on TV O'Sullivan's tip was not coming off. It didn't look so damaged that he couldn't strike the cue ball or play the game. He was just not happy with it and so he decided that he wanted to change the tip halfway through the match without even reaching the interval! To me this is ridiculous. If he was not happy with his tip he should have changed it before the match. I heard that he wasn't happy with it during his match with Robertson so why didn't he change it then?
My opinion is that the player should only be allowed a break to make repairs if the tip falls off completely. If it is just a tip that is too hard or too soft then that's the player's fault and he should have been better prepared.
The problem now is that will players use this to break an opponents rhythm? Will players who have lost a few frames to an opponent playing great snooker suddenly develop problems with their tip and need to go off and repair it?
Well it has been an interesting Masters tournament so far. There has been some excellent snooker mixed with some more average snooker. In terms of my original predictions I started the week quite well but now it seems like I just haven't got a clue!
The match of the tournament so far in terms of quality must be the clash between Judd Trump and Marco Fu. On paper this looked a good match up with Trump having a good season so far and Fu winning a big event before christmas. I always like to see Trump do well but I must admit Fu played extremely well to win 6-5.
I successfully predicted that O'Sullivan would beat Wembo although I didn't think he would need a 6-5 win and be one ball away from defeat. I have spoken before about Wembo and his ability to cope with pressure though and I am still not sure he is as good as other top players when it gets tense.
Selby beat Williams as I predicted although his match was also a lot closer than I imagined. I then had Kyren Wilson to beat Ding Junhui and Stuart Bingham to beat Joe Perry in the bottom half and I got these both wrong. Personally I think Kyren just got off to a bad start against Ding and couldn't pull it back. Maybe one reason for this was that it was his Masters debut and the atmosphere is very different to anywhere else. Perry played well in his match against Bingham and deserved the win.
Allen managed to beat the season's in form player, John Higgins, whilst Neil Robertson beat Ali Carter in the other first round matches. However Allen is now out after playing Fu. Fu just seems unplayable at the moment. On the other hand Neil Robertson seems to be really struggling and although losing to O'Sullivan is nothing shameful it was a match full of mistakes.
I think the bottom half of the draw is still there for Mark Selby to come through. He has survived a scare but at the same time he looks like he is cueing well. I think he will be in the final on Sunday.
Marco Fu has a good record against Ronnie O'Sullivan. On current form you must put Fu as the favourite to come through the first semi final. However O'Sullivan will have the crowd on his side and if he plays his best then it will be tight. 6-4 or 6-5 either way is the best I can say for that one.
Lets see how I do with these ones!
Okay. we have seen my predictions for the tough top half of the draw. What about the bottom half?
Stuart Bingham 6 Joe Perry 4
This will be another close match. Bingham has not been playing great this season and Perry must fancy his chances. However I think Bingham will have too much for Perry this time and will win a tough match.
Ding Junhui 2 Kyren Wilson 6
I predict an upset in this one. Ding has not played much this season and his recent form has been poor after a good start to the season. Wilson likes being the underdog which he will be. He also enjoys the big occasion and I don't think the fact it is his Masters debut will affect him. I can see Wilson winning this one with Ding struggling.
Shaun Murphy 6 Barry Hawkins 4
Barry Hawkins reached the final last year but he does not seem to be in that sort of form. Murphy has been playing well in patches and I think he is due to have a good tournament. I think Murphy will win but Hawkins won't give in without a fight!
Mark Selby 6 Mark Williams 2
Mark Selby seems to be able to peak for the big tournaments at the moment. He loves the Masters, having won it 3 times before and even when he's not playing well he is very difficult to beat. Williams is having a good season but he is not the player he was 10 or 15 years ago and unless Selby has a bad day I can't see anything other than a Selby win.
To be honest I think Selby will come through the bottom half of the draw and reach the final. In the top half I wouldn't put in beyond O'Sullivan to come through. However if he meets Higgins in the semi finals then I think Higgins will win. However Higgins might have to beat Allen and Trump just to get there so that is not a guarantee. It all makes for a great tournament whatever happens. The Masters starts on Sunday 15th January and goes on for a week.
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Gavin York is a qualified snooker coach. He has 10 years of experience and has coached over 400 different players. He currently coaches in Northampton, England. Please contact him for one to one coaching.