Defending champion Judd Trump defeated David Grace 6-2 in the semi-finals of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open, to set up a blockbuster final with familiar foe Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Trump has defeated O’Sullivan in each of the last two Northern Ireland Open finals, both by a 9-7 scoreline. In arguably snooker’s most compelling modern day rivalry, world number one Trump and World Champion O’Sullivan cannot be split. The pair have met 22 times, with each having won 11 times.
Tomorrow’s final will once again see the illustrious duo do battle over the best of 17 frames, for the Alex Higgins Trophy and a top prize of £70,000. It will be the first time the same players have contested a specific ranking final in three consecutive years, since Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White in the 1994 World Championship.
Defeat will do little to dampen what has been an important run for world number 67 Grace, who was appearing in just his second ranking semi-final. The Yorkshireman dropped off the tour in 2018, but regained his professional status last year by virtue of his performances on the Challenge Tour.
Grace made a confident start to this evening’s semi-final, taking the opener to establish an early 1-0 lead. However, from there Trump seized the initiative, making breaks of 57 and 91 on his way to three on the bounce to lead 3-1 at the mid-session.
Upon the resumption, Trump composed breaks of 101 and 59 to move a frame from victory at 5-1. Grace continued to battle away and reduced his arrears thanks to a run of 50 in the seventh frame. It was to no avail, as Trump fired in a contribution of 92 to wrap up the win.
“It was a tricky game. It is never nice losing the first frame, you never settle until you have your first frame on the board,” said 31-year-old Trump. “I was a bit fortunate. I played a bad shot at 3-1 and got away with it, I ended up getting in and making a break. That was kind of it then. At 4-1 up I felt confident.
“It would be nice to win 9-7 again tomorrow. It is incredible really, even for me to be in the final three times in a row. Against Ronnie it is very strange and not something that happens very often. There is probably something about this tournament that we both enjoy, even though it is here in Milton Keynes this year. It is still a special event for me. It would be nice to hopefully go out and play well, win the event and be able to defend my title back in Northern Ireland next year.
“I always enjoy playing him. I always look out for him in the draw and want him to get through so I can play him. Ever since I turned professional it is someone that I always want to play and someone I enjoy playing. He brings out the best in me. You know you have to play solid snooker and that is what seems to happen. I know I will have to be near my best to compete against him and he will know the same nowadays.”
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