Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed he is “really shocked” at how much his epic 17-16 World Championship semi-final win over fierce rival Mark Selby last August appears to have “hurt” and "scarred" the three-times Crucible champion.

Selby – world champion in 2014, 2016 and 2017 – accused O’Sullivan of being “disrespectful“ to him and the sport by hitting the balls at pace and hoping for the best when escaping from snookers during a taut 33-frame contest behind closed doors in Sheffield.

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“I felt he was being a bit disrespectful to me and the game, not many players would just get down and hit them at 100mph when you put them in a snooker,” said Selby in the immediate aftermath.

Despite his objections, the method in the madness all worked out like a dream for the sport's greatest player, who recovered from trailing 16-14 to reel off three rapid frames with lovely knocks of 138, 71 and 64 sealing a memorable victory over three gruelling days.

It should also be noted that O’Sullivan’s approach was not a revelation as he had vowed to avoid another tactical battle with Selby after he commented in June: “I’m just going to blast them open, I’m not getting sucked into eight or nine frames of 50-minute frames, because it destroys you.”

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The Essex man collected his sixth World Championship with an 18-8 victory over Kyren Wilson to equal Steve Davis and Ray Reardon’s record, but admits he has been baffled by Selby’s reaction to the semi-final.

The pair were embroiled in more controversy during the Scottish Open final last month that saw Selby complete a 9-3 win to equal Stephen Hendry’s haul of 11 straight victories in ranking event finals during the 1990s.

The contest was marred by accusations of gamesmanship from both men with Selby claiming O’Sullivan was chalking his cue to distract him early in the match and the counter argument being made that Selby’s water bottle was proving a nuisance between shots.

Selby – the only man to defeat O’Sullivan in the World, Masters and UK finals – has also aimed a few light-hearted barbs at O’Sullivan for lamenting his cue tips and cue action in recent months.

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“You know what, after playing Selby at the last tournament, I’ve realised that semi-final really has hurt him,” commented O’Sullivan. “I didn’t realise at the time. I thought: ‘It’s just a game, he’s lost a semi-final. No big deal, he’ll probably come back and win it another time’.

“But when I watched his interview after that match, I could really see he was hurt. He was just focused on two shots out of a 33-frame match. He’s forgotten the 33 frames and just focused on two balls.

I think that has scarred him in a way. I don’t think he’ll ever get over that because I think he thinks that is one world championship he lost that he can never get back.

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“Even if he goes and wins it another one or two times, that match will still be in his head,” said O’Sullivan, who begins his campaign for a record eighth Masters title against 2011 winner Ding Junhui at the Marshall Arena on Wednesday afternoon.

“That’s one I think he thought he definitely had won. The way he’s been recently, and some of the things he’s said, that has definitely bothered him so much more than I ever thought it would.

I was really shocked to be honest with you, but he obviously has to deal with that in his own way.

Selby begins his quest for a fourth Masters triumph against Stephen Maguire on Tuesday evening in the game's biggest invitational event.

O’Sullivan watched a player he once dubbed 'The Torturer' recover from trailing 10-5 to deny him a sixth world title with an 18-14 win in 2014 that gave the 'Jester from Leicester' his first.

Rocket Ronnie does not think he was guaranteed victory after watching Selby produce a similar recovery against four-times world champion John Higgins in the 2017 final from 10-4 adrift.

“People will say that 2014 final was probably one that got away, but then he did that to Higgins,” said O’Sullivan.

“People have come to expect now that Selby is probably a better player when he is four or five frames down.

"He’s more dangerous in a way because there is a shift in his approach. I lost in 2014, but I never thought that I should have won that one.

“I still knew at 10-5 that there was still a long way to go. I think I missed a black at 10-5 and thought: ‘God, that could come back to haunt me.’

“At 10-5 up against most players, you miss a ball and it’s probably not the end of the world, but he’s made of tougher stuff.”

Desmond Kane

2021 Masters scores/schedule

First round

Sunday January 10

  • Kyren Wilson 6-2 Gary Wilson (1pm)
  • Joe Perry 2-6 David Gilbert (7pm)

Monday January 11

  • Stuart Bingham 6-4 Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (1pm)
  • Shaun Murphy 6-4 Mark Williams (7pm)

Tuesday January 12

  • Neil Robertson v Yan Bingtao (1pm)
  • Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire (7pm)

Wednesday January 13

  • Ronnie O'Sullivan v Ding Junhui (1pm)
  • John Higgins v Mark Allen (7pm)

Quarter-finals

Thursday January 14

  • Perry/Gilbert v Wilson/Wilson (1pm)
  • Bingham/Un-Nooh v Murphy/Williams (7pm)

Friday January 15

  • Higgins / Allen v O'Sullivan v Ding (1pm)
  • Selby / Maguire v Robertson / Yan (7pm)

Semi-finals

Saturday January 16

  • TBC v TBC (1pm)
  • TBC v TBC (7pm)

Final

Sunday January 17

  • TBC v TBC (1pm, 7pm)
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