Ronnie O’Sullivan steps up his quest for a first Northern Ireland Open title with a Last 16 clash against Yan Bingtao in Belfast on Thursday.
O’Sullivan has suffered defeat in the last three consecutive Northern Ireland Open finals, all at the hands of Judd Trump and by the same scoreline of 9-7.
The six-time World Champion is competing in only his second event of the season, following on from the Championship League two months ago, and has coasted through the early rounds at the Waterfront Hall.
O’Sullivan began with a 4-0 whitewash of Stuart Carrington in Round One, before recording successive 4-1 victories over Andy Hicks and Alfie Burden to reach the Last 16.
The Rocket is now poised for a much sterner test against top 16 star Yan – who claimed the Masters title back in January.
O’Sullivan, a 37-time ranking event winner, is bidding to add to that record tally for the first time since securing his sixth World Championship title at The Crucible in August 2020.
Since then, he has lost in five consecutive ranking finals, all of which to different opposition.
Yan produced a remarkable performance behind closed doors in Milton Keynes to claim the Masters crown at the beginning of the year, but has failed to kick on from that fairy-tale triumph.
The 21-year-old, who became the youngest Masters winner since O’Sullivan in 1995, has failed to reach the Quarter-Finals of a ranking event so far this year, but remains strongly positioned at world number 15.
Yan was runner-up to Mark Williams in the 2017 Northern Ireland Open – the first of three ranking final appearances for the Chinese youngster to date.
O’Sullivan has won two of his three previous meetings with Yan, the most recent of which coming at the Last 16 stage of the 2018 World Grand Prix in a seventh frame decider.
Their latest encounter gets under way from 1pm on Thursday and will also be contested over the best of seven frames.
Either Lyu Haotian or Mitchell Mann will await the winner in Friday’s Quarter-Finals.
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