Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan will renew their rivalry on Sunday after both reached the NI Open final in Belfast.
The pair set up a repeat of last year’s final, when a 9-7 victory for Trump sent him on his way to his most sustained spell of success on the Main Tour.
In fact, both of these immense cueists have generally dominated the circuit during the last twelve months.
Between them they have accumulated nine titles, including all three Triple Crown majors.
While Trump’s triumph at the Waterfront Hall in 2018 provided us with a glimpse into the future, it was his demolition job of the “Rocket” in the Masters final when he truly announced himself as a towering force again.
After subsequently claiming his maiden world title at the Crucible in May, many predicted that, as has been the norm, the 30 year-old might struggle during his following season as a first-time world champion.
Far from it, with this run representing the fourth time in seven tournaments since the summer that he’s reached the final.
In that time, Trump has usurped O’Sullivan as the world’s number one and a third ranking title of this term would already represent the biggest haul for a first-time world champion since Stephen Hendry managed to capture five the season after his debut success in Sheffield.
That record may come under threat later this season but it’s another of the Scot’s long held achievements that is immediately in danger.
O’Sullivan has been tied with Hendry on the all-time ranking event winners list with 36 crowns since winning the Tour Championship in March.
This NI Open final appearance acts as the 43 year-old’s first opportunity to surpass his former great adversary.
It’s surely only a matter of time before O’Sullivan manages the feat regardless of what happens on Sunday, but the five-time world champion would probably gain a great deal of satisfaction in landing the 37th against Trump.
If anything, it would serve to remind his fellow Englishman, at a time when Trump is overwhelming the sport with his talent, that there’s life in the old campaigner yet.
Still, if a prediction had to be made and a winner chosen on current form, the favourite’s tag would probably have to go to Trump.
The Bristol potter looked a touch tired in his scrappy 6-3 defeat of John Higgins in the semi-final but has been the undoubted man in form at present overall and it would be surprising if he wasn’t able to get himself up for this contest.
“It was a special atmosphere last time”
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) November 16, 2019
O’Sullivan, by contrast, has been inconsistent – coupling strong outings like in Shanghai when he defended his title there with mundane showings elsewhere that have resulted in early exits.
Even in Belfast, O’Sullivan hasn’t reached his dizzying heights, underlined by the fact that he’s only compiled two century breaks en route to the NI Open final.
After a comfortable 6-1 defeat of Joe Perry, perhaps O’Sullivan is saving it for the main showdown and, over the best 17 frames and in front of a big crowd with £70,000 at stake, it promises to be another thrilling battle between the duo.
Trump may have emerged victorious from their last two finals together but O’Sullivan boasts the marginally superior head-to-head record in general.
It’s the top two seeds in the draw, the two heaviest scorers in the game, and with so much on the line it ought to be a cracker.
Live coverage of the NI Open final is on Eurosport and Quest TV.
Click here to view the draw (Times: CET)