Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump will face off in a delicious Northern Ireland Open final at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on Sunday.
The pair of Englishmen came through their semi-final tests on the penultimate day of action to remain in the hunt to capture the second Home Nations title of the campaign and the £70,000 top prize.
O’Sullivan’s theatrical 6-5 triumph over world number one Mark Selby was what drama in sport is made of after an incredible final frame put the seal on a contest that will go down as potentially the best of the entire season.
Both playing very close to their top levels, O’Sullivan compiled a hat-trick of centuries but couldn’t shake off his big rival, who looked like living up to his master of brinkmanship moniker when he was set to successfully overturn a 5-3 deficit.
The pair traded unexpected missed blacks off the spot in a thrilling conclusion but it looked for all money that Selby was going to complete the comeback when he found some fortune to land O’Sullivan in a devillish snooker on the last red.
Yet, after a couple of failed attempts and almost at the snookers required stage, O’Sullivan conjured an even greater slice of luck as he forced the white around the angles, hit the red into the middle pocket, and cleared the table to prevail on the black.
It was a battle that lived up to the billing and it’ll certainly be difficult to top it with just one match left in the tournament.
But facing O’Sullivan in the Northern Ireland Open final will be Trump and the pair has enjoyed some titanic battles of their own over the last decade or so.
Trump, for once in what has been a difficult and barren year, didn’t fail to live up to expectations and swept aside Eden Sharav in the last four courtesy of a 6-3 scoreline.
The former world number one has looked like a man on a mission this week as he attempts to silence the critics who have questioned his level of achievement in the game.
The 29 year-old has won eight ranking trophies and reached 17 ranking finals overall – hardly a desperate showing – but such is his obvious talent and pedigree that people perhaps expect even more from him.
🗣️ “Hopefully it goes to a decider and he won’t fluke one!”
— BetVictor (@BetVictor) November 17, 2018
Trump meets a familiar foe for the Alex Higgins Trophy in O’Sullivan, with the pair having clashed in six showdowns for glory already.
Last year’s Shanghai Masters final between the duo was the most one-sided as the latter hammered Trump 10-3 but their five other finals have either gone the distance or very close to it.
Indeed, their most recent affair in the the semi-finals of the Players Championship in March went all the way to a deciding frame with the “Rocket” edging it to notch an 11th victory in 19 attempts against Trump.
Trump has rarely been shy in confidence when it comes to facing the five-time world champion and his ability to quickly reel off a succession of frames can leave O’Sullivan rattled – and has done in the past.
However, O’Sullivan has been playing so well during this campaign in losing only one match – his surprise defeat to Mark Davis in the last four of the English Open – and has already bagged a brace of invitational titles in the form of the revamped Shanghai Masters and last week’s Champion of Champions.
A Trump triumph, against the best player in the world, would surely help to hush the doubters but whether or not he can rise to the occasion remains to be seen.
There has been a 9-8 result in each Northern Ireland Open final since the launch of the Home Nations series so let’s hope we’re in for another gripping encounter in Belfast.