Three World Champions and a resurgent former ranking event winner comprise a mouth-watering Semi-Final line-up at the 2019 Northern Ireland Open in Belfast on Saturday.
The cream has risen to the top in the season’s second Home Nation Series event, with three of the world’s top five players left standing from an initial 128-man field.
Box office rivals Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump remain on a collision course to meet again in a re-run of last year’s final but must first navigate their way past formidable Semi-Final opposition.
Reigning champion Trump bids to his fourth final in his last six tournament appearances by overcoming John Higgins in a match which signals a repeat of this year’s World Championship final.
Runner-up in last week’s Champion of Champions, Trump has dusted himself down and resumed normal service at the Waterfront Hall this week, surviving an early scare against James Cahill in Round One to prevail in a decider before dropping just two frames in his next four matches.
Undoubtedly the hottest property in the sport at present, ‘The Juddernaut’ appears to be blowing away anyone in his path but faces his first real test of the week against a player he has met 23 times previously, most recent in the Semi-Finals of World Open a fortnight ago.
Higgins is appearing in his second Semi-Final in four ranking tournament appearances this season will be eyeing a dose of revenge on the young left-hander to become only the third player to beat Trump in a ranking event this campaign.
The Scot battled through a last-frame decider with his close friend and compatriot Stephen Maguire late on Thursday night before showing his mettle once again by edging out English Open champion Mark Selby 5-4 in a gripping Quarter-Final.
The second Semi-Final sees O’Sullivan looking to move a step closer to a record-breaking 37th ranking title by ending the hopes of ‘Gentleman’ Joe Perry.
O’Sullivan finished runner-up here 12 months ago and knows that going one better this time around would see him become the outright most successful player in ranking tournament history, ahead of Stephen Hendry.
The world number three has rarely been tested en route to the business end of this competition but now faces a tough test against a fellow top 16 star.
Winner of the Shanghai Masters, O’Sullivan’s last ranking success came at the Tour Championship back in March and his dominant head-to-head record over Perry has seen him win 15 of their 17 previous encounters, including the 2017 Masters final.
Perry is into a first ranking Semi-Final since last October’s European Masters, having seen off the likes of Zhao Xintong, Graeme Dott, Robbie Williams and Alexander Ursenbacher along the way.
The 2015 PTC Finals winner, who is also a four-time ranking event runner-up, is out to end an 11-match winless run against ‘The Rocket’ stretching back more than a decade.
The action gets underway from 1pm GMT, with Semi-Final matches to be contested over the best of 11 frames.
Northern Ireland Open 2019 Match Schedule
Saturday November 16
Judd Trump v John Higgins
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Joe Perry