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Northern Ireland Open: Semi-Final Preview

Mark Williams remains on course for a first ranking crown since 2011 after comfortably beating Mike Dunn 5-1 in the Northern Ireland Open quarter-finals on Friday.

Mark Williams World Open 17 (WS)
Mark Williams. Photo credit: World Snooker

The Welshman, whose match against the 46 year-old started long after it was scheduled to due to a turgid opening last eight tie between Elliot Slessor and Li Yuan going the distance, lost the first frame but reeled off the next five for a comprehensive triumph.

There had been plenty of noise made, particularly on social media, about Williams’ inability to beat Dunn in four previous attempts at events carrying ranking points.

The two-time world champion quipped following his last 16 defeat of David Gilbert on Thursday that “the last thing you want is to go through your whole career not being able to beat Mike Dunn.”

Breaks of 71, 63, and 53 ensured that Williams booked his place in the semi-finals, where he’ll be a huge favourite to progress to the final of the second Home Nations series event of the season.

The 42 year-old will meet Slessor in the last four after the young Englishman fought to a 5-4 victory against Li Yuan in a contest bereft of quality.

Slessor had caused the upset of the tournament when he ousted Ronnie O’Sullivan in the third round, thus prematurely concluding the English Open champ’s crack at the million pound bonus on offer for achieving the grand slam of Home Nations titles.

Slessor, 23, suffered a string of first round defeats last season but has been an improved competitor of late and this quarter-final represented his second of this term following a similar run at the Indian Open.

Against Li, he was playing a rookie making his debut appearance at this stage and both players were evidently suffering from the nerves of the occasion on centre stage in front of a wider audience.

It was an awful battle but Slessor won’t care as he managed to sneak through at the Chinese player’s expense to set up the clash with Williams.

Slessor and Williams have met on two occasions before and the latter actually boasts a victory over the former world number one, which came during this year’s Welsh Open courtesy of a 4-3 first round scoreline.

However, a semi-final with the 18-time ranking event winner constitutes a much greater challenger and Slessor, ranked 82nd in the world standings, will need to improve his display considerably if he’s to have any chance of prolonging his surprise run at the Waterfront Hall.

The second semi-final will be an all-Chinese affair between two rising teenage stars from the country that is set to dominate the sport in the years to come.

There have been predictions made for a decade regarding the seemingly inevitable takeover and there has been clear evidence from this season to suggest that the real revolution is imminent.

Yan Bingtao, arguably the most dangerous of all the Chinese contingent and the one most likely to challenge Ding Junhui’s dominance from the country, is into a second ranking event semi-final in a month while his opponent Lu Haotian has reached the penultimate hurdle for the first time in his career.

In fact, Lu’s presence in the last four represents the seventh different cueist from China to reach this latterly stage in this campaign alone.

At just 17 and 19 respectively, it will be interesting to see if this could be become the first of many battles between Yan and Lu at the business end of competitions in the years to come.

Both emerged from tough last eight encounters, with the pair edging out Robert Milkins and Tian Pengfei in deciding frame thrillers.

Regardless of the outcome, Yan will rise into the top 32 in the world rankings for the first time next week, which is an incredible accomplishment considering this is only the 2014 world amateur champion’s second season on the Main Tour.

Yan could break Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 24-year old record of being the youngest ranking event champion if he can negotiate the challenge of his countryman and subsequently deny Williams or Slessor in the final.

Lu will have plenty to say about that, though, and the 2012 world under-21 champion has begun to express the obvious talent he possesses.

But Yan will certainly be expected to prevail and, if Williams advances as he should from the opposite side of the draw, what a Sunday showdown there would be in prospect between a legend from the old generation and potentially a budding star from the new era.

Live coverage continues on Eurosport and Quest TV.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)


  1. David Caulfield’s continuing reports on the world of snooker are about as professional I’ve ever encountered, in any sport. It is a pleasure to see anyone do anything well and Mr. Caulfield is setting a fine standard.

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