Kyren Wilson beat Mark Allen 6-5 in a thrilling match to set up a Champion of Champions title decider with Ronnie O’Sullivan in Coventry on Sunday.
The Kettering cueist held off a late charge from Allen to book his place in the final at the Ricoh Arena for the first time.
There wasn’t much between the pair, who had previously traded big wins against one another in the Masters final and World Championship quarter-finals this year.
In fact, for the first seven frames there was never more than a single frame separating them as the lead was exchanged on a number of occasions.
Allen’s 109 and a brace of 99 knocks were countered with breaks of 98, 68, 63, and 57 from his opponent, who then produced a timely 125 century break to go within the brink of victory at 5-3.
The Northern Irishman, winner of last week’s International Championship in China, rallied with runs of 53 and 72 helping him to force a decider.
But the 32 year-old never got in again and Wilson sealed the triumph with a break of 89 setting up the showdown with O’Sullivan, who overcame defending champion Shaun Murphy on Friday.
While Wilson will be featuring at this late stage of proceedings for the first time in his career, O’Sullivan has reached the last two in all five years that he has entered since the tournament was launched in 2013.
The “Rocket” exerted his dominance with success in the early two editions but has been denied in the final for the last two years by Murphy and John Higgins in 2016.
Wilson will undoubtedly go into this contest as the underdog but the 26 year-old will be hoping to make it a hat-trick of consecutive runners-up spots for the former world number one.
The Paul Hunter Classic champion possesses the kind of cool temperament, akin to a Higgins or Mark Selby, that is necessary to reach the very highest level of elite sport.
Glory on an important stage like this one against the most gifted player of all time would go a long way in fast-forwarding his seemingly inevitable rise to the top.
That said, Wilson has never before won a professional trophy on home soil and was humbled by O’Sullivan when the duo clashed in the final of last year’s English Open in the Home Nations series.
With appearances in the final of the Masters and the last four at the Crucible under his belt since then, though, the former Shanghai Masters champion is perhaps better-equipped to handle the enormity of such an occasion this time around.
However, the Shanghai Masters in September is where Wilson last encountered O’Sullivan, a semi-final fixture that concluded with a 10-6 loss, the same length of format for this weekend’s final.
O’Sullivan, of course, went on to triumph in that revamped invitational event in China and it’s in these conditions that the 42 year-old thrives the most.
The five-time world champion loves mixing it with solely the elite of the game and he has proven time and time again in recent years that, in these kinds of tournaments when it’s just the top 16 or the best in the world, he generally emerges as the winner.
It would be difficult to back against him this time but he would prefer to not get into a battle with Wilson as the challenger undoubtedly boasts a measured approach that could become unsettling.
In the 2016 Northern Ireland Open, albeit in a much shorter best of seven format, Wilson looked on as his opponent reeled off a trio of tons to restore parity having been 3-0 adrift.
Not deterred, Wilson steeled himself with a break of 70 in the decider to end up on the winning side at any rate.
It’s this ability to stay calm under immense pressure that has many people believing that Wilson is destined for major titles.
O’Sullivan, though, has lost only one game so far this season – his shock 6-1 capitulation to Mark Davis in the last four of his English Open defence in Crawley – and, regardless of the test that Wilson can offer, he will still be the favourite to add even more silverware to his bulging collection.
Live coverage of the Champion of Champions final is on ITV4 and Facebook(selected territories)
Click here to view the draw (times: CET)
— ChampionofChampions (@ChampOfChamps) November 10, 2018