Mark Selby failed to reach the Northern Ireland Open semi-final on Friday – ending his unlikely tilt at the £1 million Home Nations bonus.
The English Open champion was hoping to continue his quest to land all four Home Nations crowns this season but, despite a trademark fight back, narrowly lost in a decider to John Higgins.
A high quality last four line-up means that Higgins is joined by world champion Judd Trump, Ronnie O’Sullivan, and Joe Perry.
Trump rode his luck a little but still managed to compile a brace of centuries to see off the challenge of Anthony Hamilton 5-1 and set up a Northern Ireland Open semi-final clash with Higgins.
The pair have a long rivalry dating back to the 2011 World Championship final, a defeat in which Trump gained revenge for in this year’s showdown for global glory in Sheffield.
They have met more recently too, with the Englishman edging Higgins 6-5 in the semi-final stage en route to claiming the World Open in Yushan earlier this month.
Even though Higgins is an obvious threat, Trump is playing with a confidence at the moment that suggests he will be an incredibly hard player to overcome.
Neil Robertson needed to produce arguably the performance of his career to deny the world number one in the Champion of Champions title decider last weekend in Coventry.
While the Australian suffered a hangover from that success by exiting in the first round at the Waterfront Hall, Trump has put the momentary blip immediately behind him and is firmly on course to defend his Northern Ireland Open crown.
It was in this very tournament twelve months ago when the 30 year-old’s 9-7 victory over O’Sullivan kickstarted a year of success that has encapsulated two Triple Crown titles and five pieces of silverware in total.
Higgins, by contrast, is still a main contender but hasn’t etched his name on a ranking event trophy for almost two years.
“In the heat of battle it’s difficult”
Mark Selby took over 6 minutes to play one shot today.
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) November 15, 2019
The other Northern Ireland Open semi-final encounter will be contested between O’Sullivan and Perry.
The former’s 5-1 scoreline with Shaun Murphy was a touch flattering for the “Rocket”, as there were a number of frames that he managed to pinch.
O’Sullivan hasn’t been anywhere near his free-scoring best recently, underlined by the unusual statistic of him only compiling a couple of century breaks so far this week.
The 43 year-old is bidding for a record 37th ranking title but will likely need to raise his game if he’s to entertain those thoughts in the coming days.
O’Sullivan will naturally be the favourite against Perry but his fellow Englishman is coming into form at just the right time.
Perry’s run to this stage has seen him rise to 14th in the Race to the Masters standings and currently in position to qualify for this season’s prestigious invitational at the Alexandra Palace.
The “Gentleman” fought from 3-1 down to prevail against Alexander Ursenbacher in the last eight.
A distinct issue for Perry is that, in 17 attempts, the 45 year-old has only beaten O’Sullivan twice – the last of which occurring in 2008.
A repeat of the 2018 final looks to be on the cards then but there’s still a lot of balls to be potted before Trump and O’Sullivan can potentially renew their rivalry on Sunday.
Live coverage of the Northern Ireland Open semi-final stage is on Eurosport and Quest TV.
Click here to view the draw (Times: CET)