The tournament looks set to conclude as it has done in each of the past two seasons.
Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan reached the semi-finals of the Northern Ireland Open on Friday – increasing the likelihood of a repeat final showdown this weekend in Milton Keynes.
Both the 2018 and 2019 finals of the Home Nations ranking event have been contested between the esteemed English pair.
Trump triumphed on each occasion with 9-7 scorelines, and the world number one would become the first player since 1996 to win the same ranking event three times on the trot if he were to emerge from his two last encounters this weekend.
The 31 year-old, who has reached the last four or better of every tournament he has entered this term, beat Scott Donaldson 5-1 in the quarter-finals.
Trump is also just two wins away from becoming the first player to capture the first two Home Nations series titles of a single campaign – following his English Open success from October.
While this would be a great achievement, it would have to go down as particularly bad timing as the usual £1 million bonus for claiming all four Home Nations crowns in the same season has been withdrawn this year.
Still, Trump’s consistency is incredible and he’ll be a massive favourite in his Northern Ireland Open semi-finals battle with surprise contender David Grace.
The latter continued his unexpected run with a 5-2 victory over Yan Bingtao that boasted breaks of 104, 70 67, and 59.
Grace’s only previous appearance at this late stage of a ranking tournament was back in 2015 when he memorably featured at the single table set-up of that year’s UK Championship.
Whether he’ll be able to upset the odds and overcome Trump to reach a maiden final seems unlikely, and their head-to-head record bolsters that argument with three defeats from their other meetings overall.
Also – with £20k banked at least this week Grace is up to 41st on the provisional end of season ranking list.
Without that prize money he would be 62nd – it’s a huge difference #TourSurvival
— Matt (@ProSnookerBlog) November 20, 2020
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, overcame Ding Junhui on day five and is tasked with an intriguing challenge on Saturday of taking on a resurgent Ali Carter, who he hasn’t played since their infamous shoulder barge incident at the 2018 World Championship.
The “Captain” triumphed in Sheffield on that day, but with 14 losses from 15 attempts against O’Sullivan it suggests that outcome may have just been a one-off.
Carter fought back well from 2-0 down to oust Kurt Maflin in the last eight, and he will be relying on similar battling qualities to test the world champion again.
The 41 year-old’s return to form this week has been timely as he bids to break into the top 16 of the world rankings in time for the Masters, in which he was a beaten finalist last season.
The format for the semi-finals of the Northern Ireland Open increases to the best of eleven, with the action continuing behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena.
Live coverage is available on Eurosport, Quest, and various other services.
Click here to view the draw – scheduled times in CET.
Featured photo credit: WST