O’Sul­li­van Tor­turer’s given him Stock­holm syn­drome R

Rocket has new-found ad­mi­ra­tion for main ri­val Selby

The Press and Journal (North-East) - - Sport -

onnie 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 to­mor­row when he faces Liang Wenbo.

The dream ticket for many snooker sup­port­ers 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 num­ber one 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 as the Rocket let a 10-5 lead slip away as Selby scooped his first world cham­pi­onship ti­tle.

Their con­flict­ing ways of think­ing make each match be­tween Selby and O’Sul­li­van an oc­ca­sion to savour, how­ever.

“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. I just want to get in there and eat the balls.”

While tour­ing Bul­garia with O’Sul­li­van in the au­tumn, play­ing to new au­di­ences, Selby wel­comed the op­por­tu­nity to forge a bond.

Selby, 33, knew all about O’Sul­li­van’s dis­like for his me­thod­i­cal play, and it was

“We did a few nights and I like his mind­set. I know he’s in the game for the right rea­sons”

a chance to show an­other side to his char­ac­ter.

“When he was mak­ing his com­ments I didn’t re­ally know him – I had never gone out for food with him or any­thing,” Selby said.

“Then I did some ex­hi­bi­tions and shows with him around Europe, spent time with him and he is a great guy and it’s great he is still play­ing.

“Up un­til the world cham­pi­onship fi­nal in 2014, when I beat him, I prob­a­bly still didn’t have his re­spect. But to beat him over that dis­tance I think he knew it wasn’t a fluke.

“Also to come from 8-3 down and 10-5, since then I think I have won his re­spect and I hope it stays that way.”

Selby has re­placed O’Sul­li­van as the man to beat and he heads to north London as the holder of the World and UK ti­tles.

His own cam­paign be­gins on Wed­nes­day, with Selby as­pir­ing to add to the Mas­ters ti­tles he landed in 2008, 2010 and 2013.

“It would be nice but you get four tough matches there,” Selby said.

“I’ve got Mark Wil­liams, one of my good friends on tour, in the first round.”

Selby, in a typ­i­cally self-dep­re­cat­ing style, is play­ing down his tro­phy prospects.

“It’s go­ing to be tough,” he said, “But if I’m play­ing like I have been I’ll have an out­side chance.”

TOP TA­BLE: Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van re­cently spent time with world cham­pion Mark Selby

Man to beat: World cham­pion Mark Selby has usurped Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van as the best in the game

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