Northern Ireland Open semi-finals

Preview: Northern Ireland Open Semi-Finals

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby will do battle in a mouthwatering Northern Ireland Open semi-finals encounter on Saturday at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Northern Ireland Open semi-finals
O’Sullivan beat Gilbert 5-2 to reach the Northern Ireland Open semi-finals. Photo credit: World Snooker

The pair of Englishmen will renew one of the sport’s biggest rivalries after emerging from their respective quarter-final ties with David Gilbert and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh unscathed.

On the other side of the draw, Judd Trump will be a huge favourite to reach the final as he takes on Eden Sharav, who reached this stage of a ranking event for the first time in his career following a dramatic 5-4 triumph against Peter Ebdon.

All attention will be focussed on the afternoon’s first match, though, as O’Sullivan and Selby cross paths for the first time in almost two years.

On that occasion, Selby got the better of the “Rocket” in the final of the 2016 UK Championship – the latest of several high-profile contests between the pair.

In total, O’Sullivan has the superior head-to-head record but Selby is no stranger to denying the five-time world champion on the big occasion, not least at the Crucible itself in 2014 when the former was denied in a World Championship final for the only time in his career.

Selby and O’Sullivan have been the most decorated competitors by far in the last few years and it’s a small surprise that it has taken them this long to be drawn together.

While their rivalry was once fueled by O’Sullivan’s apparent lack of appreciation for the man he once labelled as the “Torturer”, these days they share a mutual respect for one another.

Still, that will hardly stop them from going hard at it in the best of eleven frames affair and, even without the dangling carrot of an important final in a Home Nations event to come, they’ll each surely be desperate to notch up a win over the other.

As such, it’s always a difficult one to call and it’s not helped by the fact that they have both been in good form of late with Selby winning the China Championship and O’Sullivan triumphant in two lucrative invitationals in the last couple of months.

Either way, it’s an encounter that’s not to be missed as two of the game’s all-time greats face off for the right to feature in Sunday’s final.

Who one of them would meet in that showdown will be determined from the evening’s Northern Ireland Open semi-finals fixture between Trump and Scotland’s Sharav.

Trump fought well to edge Ryan Day 5-3 but nowhere near as tough as how Sharav came back from the brink against former world champion Ebdon.

The 26 year-old, who matched his run to the quarter-finals of the English Open in October, found himself 4-1 down but launched an incredible turnaround and took a succession of scrappy frames to deny the veteran in a decider.

It’s a great achievement for the world number 77 but he’ll have his work cut out if he’s to go any further in the competition.

That is because Trump looks like a man on a mission this week to silence the critics who have brandished him as an underachiever in recent times.

The former world number one came out fighting after his defeat to Kyren Wilson in the Champion of Champions last week, questioning why the latter gets credit as being the best up-and-coming Englishman when he hasn’t won anywhere near the amount of trophies that Trump possesses.

The 29 year-old has eight ranking crowns to his name but hasn’t emerged with a title in more than a year, a long time for a player of his obvious talent.

Trump often flatters to deceive, beginning tournaments like a speed train with whopper performances before derailing in a heap at the business end of proceedings.

The 2011 UK champion couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to reach his first ranking final since Shanghai this time last year but he’ll have to make sure to dispel any notion of complacency.

Sharav, who represented Israel in the 2017 World Cup, is in a nice position in that he has already overachieved to get this far so anything else would likely represent a bonus.

One suspects he’ll have to raise his game a level or two to compete with Trump on current form but we’ve already seen this season, with the likes of Jimmy Robertson in Belgium and Mark Davis in Crawley, that upsets can occur.

However, should Trump manage to negotiate the challenge, a barnstorming final lies in store for Sunday.

Live coverage of the Northern Ireland Open semi-finals will be on Eurosport and Quest TV.

Click here to view the draw(times: CET)

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