The 2022 UK Championship final will be between Mark Allen and Ding Junhui on Sunday at the Barbican Centre in York.
After a week of several upsets and shock results, the title-deciding affair will ultimately boast two of the sport’s biggest names.
In Saturday’s first semi-final, Ding held off a late rally from Tom Ford to reach a fourth UK Championship final with a 6-3 victory over the Englishman.
Allen later fought back from 5-3 down to pinch glory on the last black in a thrilling deciding frame against Jack Lisowski, securing a third appearance in a UK final.
While Allen has lost his two previous encounters at the last hurdle in this tournament, Ding has won all three of his.
The most recent of those successes in 2019 also represents Ding’s last title on the main tour, having suffered a dramatic slide down the rankings over the course of the last few years.
But after a week in which he thrashed world champion and world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan 6-0 in the last eight, the Chinese star is well on his way back to where he belongs.
Ding looked comfortable for much of his last-four tie against Ford, taking advantage of his opponent’s sloppy mistakes to orchestrate a 5-0 lead.
But the 35 year-old appeared nervier with the winning line in sight, and only for a terrible missed red by Ford in the ninth frame it would have been 5-4.
The 14-time ranking event winner will be hoping he can safely negotiate those kinds of jitters on Sunday against one of the form protagonists from the 2022/23 campaign so far.
In coming from behind to deny Lisowski at the death, Allen has now reached the final of three ranking events in a row and is on course for an eighth ranking title of his career.
The Pistol was the favourite in the British Open showdown only to lose to Ryan Day, but he bounced back three weeks later to successfully defend his Northern Ireland Open crown on home turf in Belfast.
Allen is ranked number one on the single-season ranking list and will rise to number five on the official two-year rankings regardless of Sunday’s outcome.
- CLICK HERE: Mark Allen player profile, career summary, stats
For Ding, by triumphing and collecting the whopping £250,000 champion’s cheque, he’d return to the top 16 and snooker’s top table just in time to gain an invite to the upcoming Masters in January.
The former world number one possesses a superior head-to-head record against Allen, winning 12 out of their prior 18 battles in all competitions.
The pair’s only other match over two sessions was in this tournament a dozen years ago, when the Northern Irishman won a nerve-jangler 9-8.
It’s a tough one to call, because although Ding has the more experience at this stage of a major event, Allen has undoubtedly developed a habit of winning – even when he’s not performing at his best.
Ten of the past UK Championship finals have gone the distance, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this one turns out to be just as close.
Prediction: Mark Allen 10-9 Ding Junhui
Featured photo credit: WST
Allen has won their only previous final, 6-0 in the 2009 Jiangsu Classic.
I lean towards Allen also as he’s a more rounded player these days.