Ronnie O'Sullivan has explained why fellow snooker icon John Higgins will always feature in his top five players of all time ahead of a fascinating Masters quarter-final meeting in Milton Keynes.
O'Sullivan chooses seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry, Higgins, world number one Judd Trump, UK champion Neil Robertson and six-times world champion Steve Davis as a select group of green baize giants who had the ability to dismiss the opposition with frightening ease at their peak.
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The six-times defending world champion and Higgins – the four-times Crucible winner – astonishingly collide for the 70th time since their first meeting in the last 16 of the 1994 Dubai Classic which O'Sullivan won 5-1, two years after the duo turned professional.
O'Sullivan leads 37-29 in their career head-to-heads, but remains wary of the threat Higgins poses in their 29th year of competing at the snooker summit. Alongside Hendry, the seven-times Masters winner regards Higgins as the toughest player he has encountered on the table.
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"I always had two that I always went with week in, week out, you knew you had to play your best to have a chance," said O'Sullivan. "If you didn't play your best, with most players their performance would drop so they would miss balls against you, but with Hendry and Higgins their levels never dropped.
"Unless you played well, you didn't really have a chance.
"Judd is like that. If you play well, you have a chance, but if you don't he'll just take you out of the game.
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"Neil Robertson has got the ability to do that, but Judd is doing it week in, week out. Neil is probably week on, week off if that makes sense, but still has the ability to play you off the park.
"I think Hendry, Higgins and Judd would be in my three best of all time. I think after that, you'd put Neil Robertson in there with maybe Steve Davis," added O'Sullivan, who lost 10-8 to Davis in the 1997 Masters final having led 8-4.
"I never really played Davis at his peak, but he also had that ability to just bypass people quite easily."
O'Sullivan enjoyed breaks of 103, 100, 85, 73 and 60 in a 6-5 win over Ding Junhui from 2-0 behind the first round while Higgins fended off 2018 Masters winner Mark Allen 6-5 boosted by runs of 84, 82, 80, 59 and 56.
O'Sullivan is chasing a record eighth Masters title after lifting the trophy in 1995, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2014, 2016 and 2017 with Higgins bidding to add to his victories in 1999 and 2006. The winner faces David Gilbert on Saturday night for a place in Sunday's final.
Higgins v O'Sullivan at the Masters
- 1995 O'Sullivan 9-3 Higgins final
- 2005 O'Sullivan 10-3 Higgins final
- 2006 Higgins 10-9 O'Sullivan final
2021 Masters scores/schedule
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 5-6 Yan Bingtao (1pm)
- Mark Selby 3-6 Stephen Maguire (7pm)
Wednesday January 13
- Ronnie O'Sullivan 6-5 Ding Junhui (1pm)
- John Higgins 6-5 Mark Allen (7pm)
Thursday January 14
- David Gilbert 6-5 Kyren Wilson(1pm)
- Stuart Bingham 6-3 Shaun Murphy (7pm)
Friday January 15
- Stephen Maguire v Yan Bingtao (1pm)
- John Higgins v Ronnie O'Sullivan (7pm)
Saturday January 16
- Stuart Bingham v TBC (1pm)
- David Gilbert v TBC (7pm)
Sunday January 17
- TBC v TBC (1pm, 7pm)