Ronnie O’Sullivan has had a change of heart about Mark Selby after getting to know the man he labelled snooker’s “torturer”.
Defending champion O’Sullivan begins his bid for a seventh Dafabet Masters title when he faces Liang Wenbo tomorrow.
The dream ticket for many snooker fans would be an Alexandra Palace final between O’Sullivan and Selby, after their gripping UK Championship title match.
Selby triumphed in York, taking an afternoon stranglehold on the final before resisting a brilliant O’Sullivan fightback by producing spectacular snooker of his own.
The relationship between O’Sullivan and Selby has been strained in the past, with O’Sullivan’s attacking playing style countered by Selby’s more pragmatic approach. It led O’Sullivan to reveal in a 2013 memoir his scathing nickname for a player previously better known as the ‘Jester from Leicester’.
Such tags can stick, but the torture O’Sullivan has felt at the hands of Selby has given way to a better understanding between the pair, after they spent time in each other’s company during a run of exhibition events last autumn.
“We did a few nights and I like his mindset. I know he’s in the game for the right reasons and he’s a good lad,” O’Sullivan said.
“I know he’s a fierce competitor on the table and I know that if he does sometimes get a bit slow and play long, drawn-out frames, that’s not because he’s playing me. That’s just sometimes how it can go for him.
“I know it’s not intentional, he’s just a tough match player.”
O’Sullivan has suffered more painful defeats at the hands of world No 1 Selby than the setback in York.
In the 2010 Masters final, Selby charged from 9-6 behind to beat O’Sullivan 10-9, and four years later at the Crucible it was a similar story, the hot favourite seeing a 10-5 lead slip away as Selby scooped his first World Championship title.
Their conflicting ways of thinking make each clash between Selby and O’Sullivan an occasion to savour.
“I hit them with everything I’ve got, it’s like a wall and I try to walk right through it,” O’Sullivan said. “Mark will try to defend and defend and make it difficult for you at times.”