Neil Robertson and Cao Yupeng will contest the final of the Scottish Open in Glasgow on Sunday.
It will mark only the ninth time in a ranking event that no player from the United Kingdom will feature in the final.
Robertson won the second of those with victory over Ding Junhui in the 2009 Grand Prix and the 35 year-old has another Chinese competitor to face on this occasion as he attempts to complete his resurgence in form by bagging some silverware.
With yet another premature exit in a big tournament at last week’s UK Championship dropping the Australian outside the top 16 in the world rankings, Robertson failed to receive an invite into the prestigious Masters invitational that is set to take place next month at the Alexandra Palace.
Yet, rather than be bogged down by the disappointment of his failure to secure his spot in London, Robertson has immediately bounced back in style – looking more like the player of old who was able to reel off one big break after another in robotic fashion.
Against John Higgins in his semi-final clash, the 2010 world champion produced an incredible opening mini session to leave his opponent stranded on just 12 points from the first four frames.
Robertson compiled breaks of 135, 117, 74, and 65 to surge into what would prove to be an insurmountable lead.
Higgins briefly rallied to pull three frames back but the Scot had too much work to do and Robertson completed a 6-3 triumph to reach his first ranking event final in a year and a half.
Since his last victory at the Riga Masters in the summer of 2016, Robertson has suffered a dismal spell in form that has seen him plummet from being one of the sport’s top stars to almost one of the forgotten contenders.
The former world number one has been open in his honest admissions concerning issues in his private life and perhaps those played a role in his recent demise.
However, with ten tons already constructed throughout this tournament, Robertson appears to finally be back to his best.
Victory in Sunday’s showdown, in which he’ll be a heavy favourite, would represent Robertson’s 13th ranking event success and it would continue a remarkable streak that has seen the Melbourne man capture a tournament carrying ranking points in every year since 2006.
In Cao, Robertson will face a player who will be making his debut appearance at this stage of a professional event.
The 27 year-old, who compiled a 147 break earlier in the week at the Emirates Arena, has also been demonstrating an amazing turnaround in form of late.
Cao won only five matches last season – three of them coming in the single frame Shoot Out – but has been a revelation during this campaign with his surprise run to the semi-finals of the European Masters now supported by this terrific display.
In the last four, Cao gained revenge for his loss to Judd Trump at the same stage in Belgium two months ago by inflicting a hard-fought 6-4 defeat on the Englishman.
Trump was nowhere near his best and will surely rue a missed opportunity to reach another important final but take nothing away from Cao, who battled hard and showed few signs of nerves during the crucial exchanges.
Cao will likely have to raise his game further if he’s to cause a huge upset and become only the third cueist from China to claim a ranking title, or indeed hope that Robertson’s standard of play takes a substantial dip overnight.
Whatever happens, Cao will rise back into the top 64 in the world rankings as he looks set to win his primary battle of surviving on the Main Tour beyond this term.
Robertson and Cao have met only twice before with the former boasting both victories, albeit the pair hasn’t crossed paths in more than four years.
Having reached this far and shown the kind of form that has brought him so much glory in the past, Robertson must be considered as the player most likely to etch his name on the Stephen Hendry Trophy.
If Cao were to upset the odds and pocket the £70,000 top prize for the third Home Nations event of the series, it would undoubtedly go down as one of the most unexpected ranking event triumphs.
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