The biggest shame with these debates however, is that the greatest rivalry of the decade is ignored, and one player in particular, despite his obvious brilliance, simply doesn't get a look in on the vast majority of snooker threads. No, let's ignore him, and focus on two players who never faced each other at their best, and therefore never actually had a true on-table rivalry (controversial, maybe, but that's my view, the rivalry was caused by off-table niggle between them).
I think it's fair to say that John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan are, by some distance, the standout players of this decade. Mark Williams had his moments, and was almost as succesful as Higgins, but for pure consistency, the Scot gets the definite nod. And we've been treated to some spectacular clashes between the two. In 2001, Ronnie earned his title in a quality final against the excellent Scot, winning 18-14 despite seeing his 14-7 gnawed away at by Higgins. A great final, and a most definite sign of things to come. The 2003 Irish Masters final was a total classic. Never more than a frame between them, we were treated to one of the best quality games I have ever seen. Fittingly, it went down to the wire, before O'Sullivan clinched a 10-9 win with a brilliant 128 break.
In 2005's Masters final, things weren't so tight. O'Sullivan tore Higgins apart with one of the best displays of snooker ever seen. So brilliant that Higgins, with his never-say-die attitude, actually began to wave his towel in surrender. Revenge would be sweet though, just months later Higgins crushed the Rocket, 4 centuries on the spin to seal a 9-2 win.
Thankfully, the games became much closer, but the quality, naturally, never let up. The 2006 Masters final was one of the best games ever seen. It again went to a decider, and O'Sullivan appeared to have the title sewn up with a 60 break. However, despite the opening red barely succumbing to the law of gravity, Higgins cleared with a breathtaking 64. The rivalry was now very much in full swing.
Higgins held off a spirited Rocket fightback at the 2007 World Championship, winning out 13-9 having led 11-5. Their next serious encounter would take place at the 2009 Shanghai Masters. Ronnie was far too good on this occasion, winning out 6-1. Just over a month later, and the two giants of were at it again, playing out a brilliant Grand Prix quarter-final, Higgins winning in a deciding frame.
What makes this rivalry so special though, besides the fact that these two are head and shoulders above the competition, is the contrast in styles and the great admiration the two have for each other. Ronnie is a joy to watch, carries the cueball on a string, attacks with panache (although he boasts a fine safety game also) and entertains the masses. A genius, an artist, a magician. Higgins is the perfect matchplayer, strong in all departments, a master tactician and unshakeable mental strength. Both these men know how to close a game out, and are loaded with bottle, Higgins in particular looks a class apart in deciding frame showdowns.
Ronnie is sometimes labelled as disrespectful, and to be fair, he does come accross as arrogant. Even last March he was claiming that only himself or Higgins could raise their game when they needed to, and one of the two would win the World Championship. Cocky? Perhaps. Wrong? Absolutely not.
They may not have dominated like a Hendry or Davis, but they're still a class apart and have been for some time. Two magical players, and we should be thankful to have seen them. Their game on Saturday, although not a final, is a fitting end to a decade where they both shone brighter than the rest.
World Champion 2001, 2004, 2008
UK Champion 2001, 2007
Masters Champion: 2005, 2007, 2009
Ranking titles: 15
World Champion: 2007, 2009
UK Champion: 2000
Masters Champion: 2006
Ranking titles: 8
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- Joined: 02 October 2009
- Location: Ireland
- Snooker Idol: Ronnie OSullivan
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