Ronnie O'Sullivan beats Mark Selby in the semi-finals of the Northern Ireland Open

Ronnie O'Sullivan
Ronnie O'Sullivan

Ronnie O'Sullivan reached his third final of the season when beating Mark Selby 6-5 in a thrilling semi-final at Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.

Despite a well publicised spat with Snooker chief Barry Hearn earlier in the week, O'Sullivan has continued to thrill the passionate local crowd on the table, making seamless progress through the early rounds.

World number one Selby has also found something close to his best form in recent weeks and this eagerly anticipated last-four clash certainly lived up to the pre-match billing, the pair producing one of the matches of the season with O'Sullivan prevailing in a final-frame decider that had just about everything.

Selby drew first blood, getting the better of a protracted safety battle to take a close opening frame before O'Sullivan roared back with a magnificent break of 135 to level the scores.

The Rocket was confirmed to be in full working order when adding another century in frame three, this time 114, before Selby responded with 92 to make it 2-2 at the mid-session interval.

Breaks of 87 and 112 - O'Sullivan's third of the match - left Selby in big trouble at 4-2 down but he kept his hopes alive by taking frame seven with a run of 78.

O'Sullivan maintained the fabulous standard and his two-frame cushion by producing a well-taken run of 69 to go 5-3 in front with three frames to play.

However, Selby wouldn't lie down and set up a thrilling finale, a break of 72 getting him back within one frame before a huge slice of luck when missing the final red left O'Sullivan snookered and unable to prevent a deciding frame.

O'Sullivan then looked resigned to losing only his second match of the season when Selby got in first, only for a missed black off the spot to allow O'Sullivan to counter before he, too, missed a simple black when seemingly set to clear.

Tense exchanges followed before Selby had the winning line within touching distance when fluking a snooker from which O'Sullivan struggled to find any escape.

With the deficit inching towards the snookers required stage, O'Sullivan eventually found the escape he was looking for, a full-ball kiss sending the red towards the middle pocket, the final roll just strong enough to see the ball drop and bringing the Belfast faithful into full flight.

The slice of luck Selby had enjoyed only moments earlier returned in kind and O'Sullivan did the rest, a typically nerveless clearance highlighted by a beautifully floated yellow to green.

The final positional pot from pink to black was no less impressive, a deep screw somehow avoiding the middle pocket and landing perfectly placed with the black looming near the yellow spot.

O'Sullivan made no mistake, sinking the black before the Belfast crowd roared once more, standing and applauding as two giants of the game shared a warm embrace at the end of a wonderful snooker match.


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