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Judd Trump edged Ronnie O’Sullivan to clinch a hat-trick of Northern Ireland Open titles – beating the Rocket 9-7 in the final for the third consecutive year.
The defending champion held a 5-3 lead heading into the evening session and looked to be cruising to victory after quickly opening up a four-frame advantage.
But O’Sullivan rallied to earn 7-5 and then 8-7 to hint at an improbable comeback, only for Trump to trample on those hopes as a fine 89 break got him over the line.
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"I was sat there 8-5 up, thinking ‘I must get a chance to win’," Trump told Eurosport afterwards.
"And then it’s 8-7 and he's 30 in front, and I’m thinking ‘oh god, I might lose here without potting a ball’."
The contest looked a formality after knocks of 89 and 55 helped Trump open up a 7-3 lead in Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena, which was the unusual host for the event due to Covid-19 restrictions.
In fact, the main talking point was O’Sullivan’s bizarre tactics as he repeatedly played on with the frame lost – happy to pot balls even though the scoreboard was never going to spin in his favour.
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But it appeared a masterstroke as 7-3 became 7-5 before the mid-session interval, O’Sullivan finishing with a timely 63.
Trump returned from the stoppage with renewed vigour and duly posted a break of 115 – which could have been higher but for a botched cue ball off the black with the colours remaining – to restore a three-frame lead.
But O’Sullivan wasn’t finished. He flirted with a century of his own as a break of 93 extended the match, before getting amongst the balls at 8-6 by arrowing a red into the right-middle pocket. He banked a break of 74 and suddenly there was just one frame in it.
However, Trump is familiar with winning this event 9-7, and against this opponent too, and after an early nervous miss, he returned to the table to clean up with a tidy knock to the final pink.
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AFTERNOON SESSION REPORT
Trump leads world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan 5-3 at the end of a tense afternoon session.
The defending champion has been playing some fine snooker in the highly-anticipated clash between two greats of the sport.
The session began with a poor safety from O'Sullivan, gifting Trump the opportunity to jab in a long blue into the yellow pocket. The reigning champion then pocketed the pink to secure a cagey first frame.
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A bizarre second frame saw O'Sullivan elect to give Trump a second run at swerving the cue ball around the black to pot a red hanging over the pocket, with the two-time defending champion obliging, before the Rocket played on despite needing six snookers.
With the session seemingly slipping away, O'Sullivan produced a sensational fluke in the third which finally got the 44-year-old on the scoreboard. He missed a green to the bottom left by a mile, but watched it go off four cushions and then drop into the left middle before he added the brown, and a difficult cut on a blue.
Trump took a 3-1 lead with a break of 69 before returning after the interval to pocket a crucial pink and deepen O'Sullivan's problems in the fifth.
O'Sullivan desperately needed the sixth and he dug deep as he pocketed a brilliant red to keep him within touching distance, but Trump restored his three-frame advantage in style with a clinical break of 128.
The Rocket finished up by reducing the arrears to two with a 137 clearance - his sixth century of the tournament and a much-needed break heading into Sunday's evening session.
O’Sullivan plays on despite needing six snookers