Only once in 33 stagings of the World Championship at Sheffield’s iconic Crucible Theatre have the top two seeds reached the final.
That was in 1987 when Steve Davis gained revenge over Joe Johnson for his defeat the previous year.
It’s a statistic that may point to disappointment for those hoping for a John Higgins v Ronnie O’Sullivan final this year.
Of course, they have played in a Crucible final before, in 2001. O’Sullivan won 18-14. Higgins, nice guy that he is, told him afterwards that he was pleased for his dad, who was incarcerated and thus unable to share in the celebrations.
The two are rivals but they are also friends. They got to know one another on the junior circuit at the end of the 1980s and, then as now, it was the colourful O’Sullivan who garnered most of the media coverage.
He was expected to win the under 16 title at Barry Hearn’s World Masters in Birmingham in 1991 but Higgins beat him and Mark Williams to serve notice of his own potential.
Since turning professional O’Sullivan and Higgins have mirrored one another’s achievements.
They each have three world titles, they’ve each been world no.1 and O’Sullivan has won 22 ranking titles to Higgins’s 21.
They could both achieve the milestone of compiling a century of centuries at the Crucible this year, something only Stephen Hendry has also accomplished.
O’Sullivan has made 93 Crucible tons. Higgins, despite having played there on two fewer occasions, has compiled 96.
O’Sullivan is around 150 centuries ahead in their respective careers and has made nine 147 breaks to Higgins’s five.
The respect between them is mutual and genuine. They each rate the other as favourite for this year’s Betfred.com green baize marathon.
I interviewed O’Sullivan last week for Eurosport and he said, “if John plays his A-game he’ll win it.”
In response, Higgins told me: “I’d say the same about him. He’s maybe saying that to take some pressure off himself but he’s the favourite.”
These two great players are both 34. Younger stars are yapping at their heels but are yet to overtake them.
Higgins was first to win a world title. He did so in 1998, ending a season in which he’d appeared in six of the eight ranking tournament finals.
The then 22 year-old Scot compiled 14 centuries – then a record – and simply blew everyone away.
Many expected him to dominate in the fashion Steve Davis and Hendry had. It wasn’t to be and it took him nine years to land the Crucible crown for a second time.
However, it took him only two more years to win it for a third and he has played so well for the last year that a fourth could follow come May 3.
O’Sullivan watched his great friend Jimmy White take part in a parade of former champions before the 2001 world final. Leaving aside the absurdity of this, it struck a chord with Ronnie who resolved never to feel the disappointment White had of failing to win a trophy his talents were worthy of.
He won it again in 2004 and for a third time in 2008. He feels his game has declined but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good enough to guide him to a fourth success.
The 2001 final was one of two times O’Sullivan has beaten Higgins at the Crucible. The other was far more controversial, coming after O’Sullivan was nearly thrown out of the tournament for a physical assault of a World Snooker official.
Higgins was left in limbo, not finding out whether he would even have to play a quarter-final until late the night before a 10am start.
He still led 10-6 and 12-10 but was beaten 13-12. Higgins got his revenge two years later by winning their semi-final 17-9, including a second session whitewash. He also beat O’Sullivan in the second round three years ago.
They’ve played on five occasions this season with Higgins winning four times, including the extraordinarily dramatic UK Championship semi-final, which he led 8-2 before scrambling through 9-8.
A Higgins-O’Sullivan final would be one to savour. Either one of them would be a worthy world champion.
But what would it say about snooker in 2010 that two players who have been professionals for 18 years are still at the top of the tree?
It might suggest that the younger players have not yet raised themselves to the standards required to pass the ultimate snooker test.
Or perhaps it would merely be proof of what everyone already knows: that John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan are two of the finest talents the game is ever likely to see.