The Northern Ireland Open comes to a close tomorrow. Ronnie O'Sullivan has won six matches in a row to book his place in the final. That is the third time he has reached the final of this event in the last three years. O'Sullivan was twice the runner-up in the last couple of years. His nemesis? Judd Trump. This is O'Sullivan's best run in a tournament this season. Previously, he had lost to the following players:
The Rocket had to overcome a set of hurdles to get in the final. In round 2, he won his first match against fellow professional Elliot Slessor. They had met twice before, and Slessor had won in both occasions. In round 3, O'Sullivan had his revenge against Stevens, who beat him about a month ago.
Round 4 was a mouth-watering match against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, which O'Sullivan won 4-2. A magnificent counter-attack by The Rocket was the highlight of the match: Un-Nooh made a break of 66 and O'Sullivan replied with a break of 70 to win the fifth frame. In the quarter-final, a match against Ding Junhui awaited him. Ding had dropped only two frames in the tournament and predictably kept playing well in the first two frames and established a 2-0 lead. It was then that the Chinese started to miss. O'Sullivan capitalized on those errors and proceeded to win the next five frames to clinch victory.
Today's semi-final was against Ali Carter, who built a 3-1 lead before the mid-session interval. It was tough to watch the game up to that point, as both players were missing quite often, but then O'Sullivan found some form to win 5 frames in a row and thus get the win. The last frame was won in style when O'Sullivan unleashed a sublime counter-attack with the balls awkwardly placed; he made a 59 clearance to surpass Carter's break of 49.
The other player to have made it to the final is... the defending champion Judd Trump! And yes, we are going to watch the third NI Open final between the same players for the third time in a row! This is the most epic match of the season so far (in my opinion). The former world champion and world number one against the reigning world champion and world number two.
Trump has been the most consistent player of the season so far. He won the English Open a few weeks ago, reached the final of the Championship League and the semi-finals of the Champion of Champions and the European Masters. Trump lost to Kyren Wilson, Mark Allen and Martin Gould in those events.
The defending champion comfortably defeated Gerard Greene and Gao Yang in the first two rounds, compiling three century breaks in the match against Yang, which includes a sublime maximum break in frame 3. In round 3, however, Luca Brecel was leading 3-2 and had opportunities to make a winning contribution but did not take advantage of them, allowing Trump a comeback.
The world number one was never threatened again in the 3 matches that followed. He had his revenge against Martin Gould and beat Scott Donaldson yesterday and David Grace today in the semi-final. I have the ultimate respect for all the players on the tour, but both Donaldson and Grace were up against a behemoth and were not able to reproduce the kind of snooker that brough them so far in this tournament. Grace scored a single 50+ break today, which is not enough to compete with Judd Trump.
If Trump wins tomorrow, he will have his fourth Home Nations title. He already won the English Open this season and the Northern Ireland Open in 2018 and 2019. If O'Sullivan wins, this would be his second Home Nations title (he won the English Open in 2017 playing solid snooker throughout the event). I have no idea who is going to win the final, but Trump is the favorite because his hunger for titles is unmatched. And from my perspective, Trump is the best player in the world at the moment. On the other hand, O'Sullivan is a legend of the sport, but he will have to work his magic soon in the match. The Rocket will need to play at a level that resembles the form he showed against Neil Robertson in the final of the Players Championship in 2019. Putting it simply, this will be a clash of titans. Trump is insanely talented and is at the peak of his powers, but O'Sullivan is gifted and unpredictable.
And let's not forget that there will be no gaps in the snooker calendar as the UK Championship starts next week. This means that whoever loses tomorrow will have no time to grieve. The loser shall lick his wounds fast and come back stronger for the first Triple Crown Tournament of the season, which will define the top 16 players that will be allowed to play in the second Triple Crown Tournament of the season: The Masters.
Featured images credit: wst.tv