Defending champion Mark Allen is through to the final of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open, after defeating Australia’s Neil Robertson 6-2 in front of a passionate home crowd in Belfast.
Antrim’s Allen emotionally landed the Alex Higgins Trophy for the first time 12 months ago, by defeating John Higgins 9-8 in a thrilling final. He now faces China’s Zhou Yuelong over the best of 17 frames tomorrow, with the chance to defend his crown. The winner will scoop a £80,000 top prize.
Tomorrow’s final is sure to be contested amidst a raucous atmosphere. The evening session sold out earlier today and the afternoon session has just a handful of tickets remaining. The winner of tomorrow’s match will scoop the last remaining spot in the upcoming Champion of Champions event.
Allen’s success this week comes off the back of a summer of hard work away from the table. The Northern Irishman has now lost nearly five stone in a bid to get fitter, which was inspired by a chat with World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan after Allen lost to him at the Crucible.
Defeat for 23-time ranking event winner Robertson ends his bid to become the first player to complete the Home Nations Slam. The Melbourne cueman has won each of the other three Home Nations events, with the Northern Ireland Open remaining the final piece of the puzzle for at least another year.
Allen won a truncated opening frame this evening, but Robertson responded by taking the second courtesy of a 56 break. Allen won the third and then ensured a 3-1 lead at the interval with a contribution of exactly 100.
The Pistol didn’t let up when play resumed and fired in a superb break of 136 to move 4-1 in front. Robertson pegged him back with 68 in the sixth, but a run of 60 in the seventh made it 5-2 to Allen.
The eighth frame came down to the colours, which Allen cleared with 27 to force a respot. After an extensive safety battle, Allen eventually deposited a long range black to the yellow pocket to send the Waterfront Hall crowd wild.
“The atmosphere on those last few balls was ridiculous. It looked a few times as if Neil would leave me a shot and the crowd were going mad, then it ran a bit more and I had to play safe. I got a chance at that long black, potted it lovely and the crowd went nuts. It was class,” said 36-year-old Allen.
“Zhou is a class player. I always thought he was the best out of the Chinese outside of Ding but he never really pushed on. Yan and Zhao have pushed on and got themselves up the rankings. Zhou has always been classy. There is something about him, he hits the ball well and scores heavy. I just have to play my game. He hasn’t won a tournament yet and it would be nice if I could keep him on zero for as long as possible. He is so young and if he gets one or two under his belt he could go on to win multiple further events. It is up to me to try and stop that.
“I want the crowd to be boisterous. I want them to be supportive like they always are, but I want them to be fair. If Zhou plays well and pots good balls I want them to show him appreciation. It is a ranking final and both players deserve to be there. We’ve played some good stuff to be there and I want them to be respectful, but also cheer me on as much as possible.”