Ronnie O’Sullivan launches his latest quest for a maiden Northern Ireland Open title when he locks horns with Lukas Kleckers on Sunday.
The Rocket is a three-time runner-up at the Home Nations event, having lost 9-7 to Judd Trump in each final between 2018 and 2020, but is yet to get his hands on the Alex Higgins trophy.
O’Sullivan has never lost a first-round match in the Home Nations Series, and certainly has momentum as he looks to go all the way to a 40th ranking title at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
The seven-time World champion captured his first silverware of the season at last week’s Hong Kong Masters. After a commanding 5-0 whitewash of Ng On Yee, O’Sullivan recovered from 4-1 down to defeat Neil Robertson 6-4 in the semi-finals, before overcoming Marco Fu by the same scoreline in the final.
The world number one has prevailed in both of his previous meetings with Kleckers, including a 4-2 win in the first round of last year’s Welsh Open.
But he will be wary of a potential upset following his first-round defeat by Alexander Ursenbacher at last month’s British Open in Milton Keynes.
Kleckers secured an immediate return to the main tour following his relegation at the end of last season, and he would really kickstart his campaign with a shock victory here.
The Ruhr Potter has only registered two wins from his eight matches so far this term, but he will look to draw inspiration from his rare but notable successes over the likes of Yan Bingtao and Gary Wilson last year.
The winner of this match will play David Grace in the last 64 of the Northern Ireland Open.
Play gets underway at 7pm BST on Sunday and the match will be contested over the best of seven frames at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
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