Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins are still "head and shoulders" above most of the competition on the World Snooker Tour, according to seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry.
O'Sullivan and a rejuvenated Higgins – with 10 world titles between them – meet over the best-of-19 frames for the second time in less than a month at the Tour Championship after the Scotsman completed a majestic 10-3 win in the Players Championship final in February.
Northern Ireland Open
'Never seen a clearance as good as that' - O'Sullivan hails magic moment from Higgins
17/10/2021 AT 16:43
The opening quarter-final at Celtic Manor on Monday (1pm and 7pm) will be the 72nd time the pair have met in snooker's 'El Clasico' since turning professional as part of the 'Class of '92' alongside Mark Williams, who celebrated his 46th birthday on Sunday by lifting his 23rd ranking title at the WST Pro Series event.
Hendry – who accepted a two-year invitational card to return following his retirement in 2012 – admits he did not think the duo would still be so dominant in the nine years he has spent away from competition.

'It's amazing!' - Hendry on the longevity of O'Sullivan and Higgins

When Hendry retired, Higgins was ranked fifth in the world with O'Sullivan at nine. He returns with O'Sullivan ranked number two having won three more world titles and Higgins still at world number five having moved onto 31 ranking title victories after ending a three-year drought by winning the Players.
Hendry feels that only the undisputed world number one Judd Trump can be regarded as performing at a more consistent level in an astonishing display of sporting longevity with O'Sullivan reaching four ranking finals this season ahead of his world title defence next month.

'I can't believe he's played that!' – Amazing O'Sullivan shot stuns commentators

"I thought they would be around the top four, definitely top eight," said Hendry. "The game changed in the way you can pick and choose events so Ronnie didn't have to play in everything.
"That really helps Ronnie.
It just proves how good they are. All the players that have joined the ranks, all the Chinese players, all the young players and still these guys are head and shoulders above a lot of the rest, Judd Trump apart.
"It's amazing to see and all credit to them."

Watch John Higgins clinch 'fantastic' 147 to make history at World Snooker Championship

Hendry feels his fellow Scot will be too hot for O'Sullivan to handle if he replicates the form that saw him drop only four frames in four matches on his march to winning the Players Championship buoyed by a slight change in his technique when addressing the cue ball.
"If the same Higgins as the one who won Players a couple of weeks ago turns up tomorrow there’s only 1 winner," said Hendry.
O'Sullivan leads the head-to-head 37-31 with three drawn matches in league formats, but the fine margins between them is illustrated by the betting with O'Sullivan priced at 4/5 and Higgins available at 11/10.

Snooker's all-time ranking event winners

  • Ronnie O’Sullivan (Eng) 37
  • Stephen Hendry (Sco) 36
  • John Higgins (Sco) 31
  • Steve Davis (Eng) 28
  • Mark Williams (Wal) 23
  • Judd Trump (Eng) 22
Northern Ireland Open
'Messi can maybe make the game look that easy' - O'Sullivan wowed by Higgins
16/10/2021 AT 21:49
Northern Ireland Open
'Messi can maybe make the game look that easy' - O'Sullivan wowed by Higgins
16/10/2021 AT 21:44