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Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ali Carter: Northern Ireland Open 2020 preview – Rocket and Captain renew their rivalry

Jamie Shaw in Northern Ireland Open

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Ding and O'Sullivan embrace (credit:Steven Paston/PA Images)

Resurgent Ronnie O’Sullivan stuns Ding at the Northern Ireland Open to set up Carter reunion

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Ronnie O'Sullivan keeps his title defence on track (credit:Nigel French/PA Images)

“I didn’t apologise” to Ali Carter or Mark Allen says Ronnie O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan and Carter face off for the title at Alexandra Palace (Photo by PA Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ali Carter face off for the first time in more than two and a half years as they vie for a place in the 2020 Northern Ireland Open final.

The two Essex rivals last came to blows at The Crucible in 2018 in an ill-tempered encounter in which they brushed shoulders and had an exchange of words in the arena.

Carter went on to win the match 13-9 for a place in the World Championship Quarter-Finals, but has enjoyed minimal success since.

O’Sullivan, on the other hand, has gone on to claim a sixth world title and eclipse Stephen Hendry’s record as the most decorated ranking event winner in snooker history.

After a relatively slow start to the season, ‘The Rocket’ has caught fire in Milton Keynes this week to reach his first Semi-Final of the campaign, dropping just eight frames along the way.

The world number two thrashed Jamie O’Neill and Elliot Slessor 4-1 before overcoming Matthew Stevens and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 4-2 to reach the Last Eight.

There, he reeled off five consecutive frames from 2-0 down to dispatch Ding Junhui 5-2 and remain on course for a third consecutive Northern Ireland Open final appearance.

O’Sullivan has lost out to Judd Trump in each of the last two finals held in Belfast and could be set for a third rematch if the pair can both progress on Saturday.

Carter, meanwhile, is through to his first ranking Semi-Final since the European Masters in January, having produced a series of resurgence displays so far this week.

The Captain had crashed out in the early rounds of all three ranking tournaments this season prior to his return to the Marshall Arena, but has made four centuries en route to the penultimate stage.

Carter has seen off Ben Hancorn, Xiao Guodong, Dominic Dale, Ben Woollaston and Kurt Maflin en route to the Semi-Finals and is now eyeing back-to-back wins over O’Sullivan.

Carter had previously lost all 14 of their head-to-head meetings, including two World Championship finals, and will be fired up to ground ‘The Rocket’ as he bids for his first ranking title since the 2016 World Open.

The match gets underway from 1pm GMT and will be contested over the best of 11 frames.

Either reigning and back-to-back champion Judd Trump or Leeds underdog David Grace will await the winner in Sunday’s final.