NI Open in Unexpected Final Four

An Englishman is guaranteed to emerge victorious in the inaugural Northern Ireland Open as the semi-finals take place today in Belfast.

Hamilton encounter is in the evening session, starting at 7pm. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

For two of them, it is a chance to bolster their CV with an additional ranking event trophy.

By contrast, the other pair is each seeking a maiden triumph well into the twilight of their careers.

Indeed, both Mark King and in particular Anthony Hamilton can lay claim to being the best player ever to have never succeeded at a ranking tournament level.

The prospect is still in place in which the duo could clash in Sunday’s final but first they must overcome respected opposition in Kyren Wilson and Barry Hawkins respectively.

Wilson has arguably become the favourite to land glory in the second Home Nations series competition of the season – especially after successive wins over Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams.

In each victory the 2015 Shanghai Masters champion withstood the challenge of two of the sport’s most heralded stars to prevail in deciding frame thrillers.

The confidence the 24 year-old will have garnered from his cool displays in the final frames will certainly stand him in good stead for the weekend ahead.

Wilson has only faced King on two occasions, with the scores tied at one win apiece.

Interestingly, though, the former’s solitary victory came en route to his own maiden ranking event success in China last year.

The likelihood is that King, who is featuring in his first semi-final of this lofty status in five years, will have to raise his game to embark on just a third career ranking event final appearance.

Hamilton, too, has finished runner-up twice, with his last final an incredible 14 years ago at the China Open when he narrowly succumbed to Williams.

It is generally regarded that the ‘Sheriff’ is up there very high in terms of players who have never quite managed to obtain ranking silverware – and should he go on to succeed it would be a vastly popular triumph.

Hamilton was the first to finally take advantage of home favourite Mark Allen’s lacklustre displays this week as he knocked out the Antrim man on Friday 5-2.

That was the same scoreline that Michael White suffered in defeat to Hawkins, who has quietly gone through the five rounds up until this point under the radar.

In fact, so far the two-time ranking event winner has dropped a meagre three frames across his five contests.

Somewhat incredibly, considering the pair account for the best part of 45 years of professional ranks between them, Hawkins and Hamilton have met just once.

That materialised in the 2011 World Championship final qualifying round when the ‘Hawk’ won the day 10-5.

So not much to gone on from the two head-to-head records but an intriguing conclusion to this event nonetheless.

It definitely isn’t the line-up that anyone was expecting but there’s still a matter of £70,000 at stake and potentially a long overdue ranking event victory for one of the sport’s long servants.

Click here to view the draw.

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