Northern Ireland Open 2020

Can Trump defend his title for a second time?

The Northern Ireland Open starts next Monday, November 16. This is the second event of the Home Nations Series. As the name implies, it’s ordinarily held in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This year, however, the players will be back at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes. The format is familiar to all snooker fans: all the 128 players on the tour shall be playing. It’s a little bit frustrating for the top ranked players because they need to go through the first 4 rounds to get to the quarter-finals and there’s always someone ready to spoil the party. But reality reveals itself in these tournaments. Usually the line-up for the later stages are composed of familiar faces, with the presence of few underdogs.

Let’s look at the top 16 players in the world rankings:
  1. Judd Trump
  2. Ronnie O'Sullivan
  3. Neil Robertson
  4. Mark Selby
  5. Kyren Wilson
  6. Shaun Murphy
  7. John Higgins
  8. Mark Allen
  9. Stephen Maguire
  10. Ding Junhui
  11. Stuart Bingham
  12. David Gilbert
  13. Yan Bingtao
  14. Mark Williams
  15. Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
  16. Jack Lisowski
Now to compare with the top 16 players in the 1-year ranking list to see where things stand:
  1. Judd Trump
  2. Mark Selby
  3. Kyren Wilson
  4. Neil Robertson
  5. Martin Gould
  6. John Higgins
  7. Shaun Murphy
  8. Zhou Yuelong
  9. Ding Junhui
  10. Barry Hawkins
  11. Yan Bingtao
  12. Robbie Williams
  13. Tom Ford
  14. Mark Davis
  15. Zhao Xintong
  16. Anthony McGill

The top 8 players in the 1-year list almost overlap with the top 8 players in the world rankings, the only exceptions are Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Allen, who are in 46th and 24th places, respectively. Although it’s too early to predict anything, these players need to do something about their rather precarious position in the 1-year rankings. I assume Mark Allen will climb the 1-year ranking, thanks to the momentum he’s got, and O’Sullivan has always been unpredictable. Worst case scenario, it would be a sad thing to see the world champion and the recently crowned champion of champions miss tournaments like the the Grand Prix, the Players Championship or the Tour Championship in the next few months. Note that the snooker calendar is frantic until late December, so I expect a lot of changes in the following weeks.

I noticed that Mark J. Williams has dropped the rankings considerably. He might fall off the top 16. Currently, he is number 92 in the 1-year list. As for the other players, it’s good to see the likes of Martin Gould, Barry Hawkins and Anthony McGill doing well. Stuart Bingham is also on top in 19th place. The other top 16 players are in a similar situation as O’Sullivan.

Now back to next week’s event. The Northern Ireland Open has brough memorable moments for snooker fans over the past few years. In 2016, Mark King won his maiden ranking title by defeating Barry Hawkins 9-8 in an epic final. A year later, it was Mark J. Williams who lifted the trophy, but not without suffering a decider against China’s Yan Bingtao. The Welshman went on to become world champion for a third time some months later.

The Alex Higgins Trophy

This has been Judd Trump’s tournament since 2018. Back in late 2018, him and O’Sullivan reached the final. O’Sullivan had been crowned the Champion of Champions a week earlier and therefore had momentum coming to the tournament. It was a close match right from the start. Trump was playing consistently but had nothing to show for it after the first session, which ended 4-4. O’Sullivan was leading 7-6 when Judd found some form to win the next 3 frames and the match 9-7. Some say this was a turning point in Trump’s career, but I disagree, although the fact that Trump relishes playing O’Sullivan in big occasions is unquestionable. In my opinion, the real turning point of Trump’s career was the final of the Masters in 2019, when he trashed O’Sullivan 10-4 after building a massive 6-frame lead in the first session.

In 2019, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump reached the final again. This time, however, Trump was the man to beat (he was world champion and world number one) and O’Sullivan was the underdog with no ranking titles under his belt in the season. In the end, history repeated itself and Trump won the match 9-7, compiling four centuries and seven additional 50+ breaks. Trump has been on a winning streak since the final in 2018, so his chances of retaining the Alex Higgins trophy for a second time are high.

Featured image credit:
Background image by Jeon Sang-O from Pixabay