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The top five snooker rivalries of past and present –

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There have been some intense sporting rivalries through the years from Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier to Bjorn Borg versus John McEnroe, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna to Celtic versus Rangers.

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Fans love it when sport’s biggest stars lock horns and battle it out for supremacy as, most of the time; it is really close and has them on the edge of their seats.

Here are Snooker’s five greatest ever rivalries…

Fred Davis v John Pulman

Back in the days before colour television and only a handful of players competing, these two provided the game’s first true rivalry.

Davis’ brother Joe had dominated the scene in the early years by winning 15 consecutive World Championship titles, before retiring from the competition in 1946 following his 37-36 victory over Fred in the final.

Fred picked up the baton from there by winning three titles in 1948, 1949 and 1951 – beating Pulman 22-14 in the semi-finals of the latter and what was their first notable meeting.

Davis also overcame Pulman to lift the trophy in 1955 and 1956, but the latter exacted his revenge in 1964 and 1965 with 19-16 and 37-36 wins respectively.

Pulman then reeled off five straight victories when the tournament was played on a challenge basis in 1966, before Davis claimed the last two meetings in the same year.

Overall, Pulman shaded the head-to-head record with 15 wins to Davis’ 12.

Ray Reardon v John Spencer

Snooker first became popular in the late 1960s and early 70s and these two led the way for much of that era.

Reardon’s six World titles to Spencer’s three suggests a sway in the balance of power but, in reality, there was very little between them in all aspects, as the Welshman’s long potting and superb tactical nous was cancelled out by the Englishman’s break-building and exceptional cue power.

As the sport began to receive real recognition with the introduction of colour of television, the players shared the first two finals of the BBC’s Pot Black in 1969 and 1970.

They also swapped victories in consecutive World Championship semi-finals, as Reardon won 37-33 in 1970 before Spencer triumphed 34-15 the following year.

Other notable encounters include a thrilling 23-22 semi-final win for ‘Dracula’ en route to his second World title in 1973, as well as the first ever Masters final two years later which Spencer clinched on the final black to win 9-8.

They shared their 45 meetings with 22 wins apiece, the last coming in the last 64 of the 1988 International Open. Fittingly, it took a final-frame decider to separate the pair once again, as Spencer edged Reardon out 5-4.

Steve Davis v Alex Higgins

If the rivalry of the 70s pitied two similar players, then the subsequent battle of the next decade featured ones at opposite ends of the spectrum and was brilliantly reconstructed in the recent BBC iPlayer feature film The Rack Pack.

You had the professionalism and dedication of a shy and introverted Davis, who possessed an incredible ability to practise for hours on end.

Then, there was the outgoing, flamboyant and extroverted people’s champion in Higgins – Snooker’s first natural talent and who many regard as the man that made the game popular – although that was also very much the case as far as his lifestyle was concerned.

The first big meeting between the two came in the 1980 World Championship, with Higgins winning 13-9 in the quarter-finals. 23-year-old Davis got his revenge, though, as he truly announced himself to the snooker world with a comprehensive 16-6 victory in the final of that year’s UK Championship – the first of three they would contest.

He then beat ‘the Hurricane’ en route to winning his first World titles in 1981 and 1983, though Higgins stopped a run of six straight defeats in that same year with a deciding frame 16-15 victory from 7-0 down in the UK Championship.

Davis exacted his revenge the following year as he won 15 of the next 18 meetings; including the 1988 Grand Prix final and their last ever clash in the last 32 of the 1989 British Open.

The latter encounter is perhaps most notable for Higgins, playing for the first time since breaking his foot after falling from a flat window, hopping around the table for each shot.

Stephen Hendry v Jimmy White

This is undoubtedly the greatest rivalry in the history of the game and almost a clone of the previous decade.

Once again, there was an ultimate professional in Hendry and another flair player and crowd favourite in White.

When you hear those two names, the first thing that springs to mind is the four World finals they contested with Hendry on top on each occasion at the expense of White.

The Scotsman won the first of three consecutive Masters semi-final meetings on the way to his second title in 1990, before capturing his maiden World crown with an 18-12 win at the Crucible that year.

Hendry repeated the feat after coming from 14-8 down to triumph 18-14 in 1992, before comprehensively sweeping his opponent aside 18-5 the following year.

Then came the moment when White confirmed himself as ‘the nearly man’. At 17-17 and in the balls during the 1994 final, he rushed that straightforward black off its spot before seeing it rattle in the jaws of the pocket.

The chance had gone and it was as close as he ever got to finally getting his hands on the trophy that had deceived him, as Hendry calmly knocked in a 57 break to end White’s hopes.

As the years progressed, meetings in major tournaments slowed down with both players arguably beyond their peak.

White’s fans did have something to cheer about when he avenged those final defeats with a resounding 10-4 win in the opening round at the Crucible in 1998, while both players rolled back the years when they produced a nail-biting 17-frame extravaganza in round one of the 2010 UK Championship. Hendry was the victor once again, as he edged past his opponent 9-8.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Selby

Another complete contrast in styles makes this battle so intriguing and will do for years to come, as O’Sullivan’s flair and rapid play clashes with Selby’s tactical approach and never-say-die attitude.

‘The Rocket’ branded Selby “the Torturer” in his 2013 autobiography Running for the latter’s sheer determination and ability to never give up when trailing so far behind in matches.

Their first notable meeting produced a classic in the semi-finals of the 2007 UK Championship, as O’Sullivan produced a stunning 147 in the final frame to edge past his opponent 9-8.

O’Sullivan and Selby shake hands (Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images)

They subsequently met in the final of the 2008 Welsh Open. The signs of Selby’s bouncebackability were there for all to see, as he responded from 8-5 down by reeling off four straight frames for a 9-8 victory of his own.

O’Sullivan brushed Selby aside 7-2 in the final of that year’s Premier League, before winning the first of their three Masters final showdowns 10-8 the following month.

Selby hit back in 2010 with another trademark recovery, this time from 9-6 down to stun ‘the Rocket’ 10-9 and also shaded the final of the European Tour’s Antwerp Open 4-3 in 2013.

A comfortable 10-4 victory for O’Sullivan in the 2014 Masters final was answered in typical Selby style at the Crucible, as ‘the Jester’ ground his way back from 8-3 and 10-5 down by winning 13 of the next 17 frames for a remarkable 18-14 triumph.

Their most recent encounter came at this month’s Masters when an inspired O’Sullivan came out on top in the quarter-finals 6-3 as he stormed to a sixth title.

That victory moved O’Sullivan 12-8 in front of Selby in their head-to-head record, although there will surely be plenty more fascinating showdowns between them in years to come.