World Champion and world number one Judd Trump defended his 19.com Northern Ireland Open title, defeating Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in a scintillating Belfast final.
It’s a 14th ranking title for Trump, moving him ahead of Ding Junhui on the all-time list. His victory, in what was professional snooker’s 350th ranking event, earns him £70,000 and sees him retain the Alex Higgins Trophy.
The rivalry between the sport’s two biggest superstars, Trump and O’Sullivan, couldn’t be more tightly contested; they are now locked together at 11-11 in their head-to-head record.
This evening’s blockbuster final was a repeat of last year’s showpiece clash in Belfast. Trump also got the better of O’Sullivan on that occasion, winning again by a 9-7 scoreline. This was the first back-to-back repeat final since Paul Hunter and Ken Doherty met at the Welsh Open in 2001 and 2002.
Bristol’s 30-year-old Trump has further solidified his place at the summit of the sport, following his first World Championship title in May. This evening’s victory, along with titles at the International Championship and World Open, has made him the first player since Stephen Hendry in 1990/91 to win three ranking titles in the season after his maiden Crucible win.
O’Sullivan remains on 36 ranking titles, tied with Hendry, and will have to wait for another chance to top the all-time list on his own.
Trump established a 5-3 advantage after a high quality afternoon session at the Waterfront Hall.
The pair continued to produce fireworks when the action resumed this evening. O’Sullivan pulled within one, taking the opening frame to make it 5-4.
Trump then turned up the heat to move three clear at 7-4. A fine century run of 104 was followed up by a spectacular 147 attempt. Two intricately played plants along the way put him in position for the perfect break, but he missed a tricky 15th black to break down on 113.
Despite that Trump onslaught, five-time World Champion O’Sullivan refused to wilt. Breaks of 72 and 76 saw him pull within one at 7-6.
The exhilarating standard continued under intense pressure as the duo traded centuries. First Trump fired in a break of 124 to move a frame from victory. O’Sullivan kept his hopes alive with a 135 to make it 8-7. However, it was Trump who wrapped up a superb victory with a break of 84.
Later this month, Trump will travel to York aiming to win the UK Championship and complete a clean sweep of all three Triple Crown events in the same year.
Trump said: “It was an amazing atmosphere out there at the end. Both times I have played him here in the final it has been unbelievable. The arena is made for snooker. I managed to save my best for the final. I wasn’t feeling particularly great in the matches leading up to that. The end of that semi-final against John Higgins inspired me and that gave me the confidence to go out there against Ronnie and play my best.
“I think for the fans we do bring the best out of each other. We have had some amazing games recently. It is always pretty close. When I have played him recently, I have played my best. That is what you have to do against him. If you miss chances he walks all over you.
“I can’t wait to get started at the UK Championship now. I am full of confidence after the last few events. It is one I’ve had my eye on since winning the World Championship. I’d love to be able to win all three in a row.”
O’Sullivan said: “I’ve had a good week. I’ve enjoyed it. There has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. That is sport.
“As far as Judd is concerned there is nobody out there to compete with him. You look at Ding, he isn’t doing much. There’s nobody out there. All you have is me, Higgins and Selby that seem to be lingering about.
“I’m looking forward to the UK Championship. The coffee is good up there and I enjoy York so it will be good to get up there and have a bit of fun.”