2021 Northern Ireland Open – last 32 and last 16

The last 32 and last 16 rounds were played to completion over the last two days, with 3 of the poster boys exiting the tournament: the World champion, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Ronnie all lost yesterday in the last 16.

Here are the reports by WST.

October 13 – Morning & Afternoon

Higgins And Williams Set Up Showdown

John Higgins and Mark Williams both won their third round ties at the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open to set up a mouth watering last 16 clash at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Scotland’s four-time World Champion Higgins will be seeking revenge for defeats in their previous two meetings, which both came at the Crucible. Williams scored a 13-7 win over his ‘Class of 92’ counterpart at this year’s World Championship and was victorious in an epic 2018 world final 18-16 to claim his third Crucible crown. However, it is Higgins who holds a slight edge in the head to head record, leading 20-19.

Higgins was the first of the two to get through this afternoon, beating Belgium’s Luca Brecel 4-2 with a magnificent performance. The Scot fired century breaks of 113, 105 and 121 on his way to victory. Williams, has been suffering with gout this week, but Higgins still expects a stern test.

“Playing Mark will be so tough whether he has got gout or not. He is such a great player. We will be renewing old rivalries I suppose,” said 46-year-old Higgins.

“I’m really happy with how I played. That was better than my first two matches. I felt better today. You hope you can build into the tournament.”

Williams secured his progression with a 4-2 defeat of Welsh compatriot Jak Jones. Williams played through a hefty pain barrier in the first two rounds and looked as if he would struggle to continue his run any further as he fell 2-0 behind this afternoon.

However, from there he blitzed to victory. Breaks of 102, 100, 53 and 72 in consecutive frames saw him come from behind to seal the win.

“The gout is much better now, I can almost walk like normal,” said 46-year-old Williams. “Every time me and John play it is great. I’m sure he will be trying to get one over on me, because I’ve beaten him the last couple of times.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan eased to a 4-1 win over Alfie Burden to earn his place in the last 16. The Rocket composed runs of 57, 54 and 70 during the tie and will now meet Masters champion Yan Bingtao, who defeated Oliver Lines 4-0.

An inspired Gary Wilson set up an evening clash with World Champion Mark Selby after a 4-0 whitewash win against Rory McLeod. During the victory Wilson made breaks of 64, 73, 101 and 128.

You can read more about Ronnie’s win here

October 13 – Evening

Selby Sees Off Wilson To Reach Last 16

World Champion Mark Selby scored a comprehensive 4-1 defeat of Gary Wilson to make the last 16 of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.

Selby defeated Shaun Murphy 18-15 in the Crucible final in May to secure a fourth World Championship title. As a result, he went on to dethrone Judd Trump and become world number one during the recent British Open.

However, whatever happens this week, Trump is guaranteed to reclaim top spot. That is because the prize money Selby earned by winning the 2019 English Open and reaching the 2019 China Championship semi-finals, comes off his ranking after the end of this event.

Leicester’s Selby faced a potentially stern test this evening, against an in-form Wilson. The Gateshead cueman won his first two matches by 4-0 scorelines, making six breaks over 50 in the process.

Selby quickly ended Wilson’s perfect frame record when the match got underway, taking an early 2-0 lead. Wilson hit back with a fine break of 111 to cut the deficit and had looked set to draw level when he led the fourth 69-8. However, after an uncharacteristic miss from Wilson, a typically gritty clearance of 62 from Selby saw him steal the frame by a single point.

World number one Selby then embarked on a 147 attempt, before breaking down on the 11th red to end his run at 80. The match victory was all but secured and Selby now faces David Gilbert in the last 16 tomorrow.

“I didn’t feel I switched on until Gary missed a simple red in the fourth frame. It had looked like going 2-2 and it was a big steal to clear up. I switched on after that,” said 20-time ranking event winner Selby. “I was sat in my chair expecting him to make it 2-2. He never misses that. He could pot 100 out of 100. I don’t know what he was thinking. You’d have to ask him.

“I felt calm all the way through the 147 attempt. I knew the red underneath the pink would be difficult. I went for it at the right time and the only kiss I don’t want is the one that I got.”

Defending champion Trump was made to work during an edgy 4-2 defeat of China’s Lu Ning.

The Ace in the Pack holds a remarkable record in this event, having won it for the last three years. However, he wasn’t at his brilliant best this evening.

Trump top scored with a break of 83 and got himself over the line by claiming a tense sixth frame on the pink. Next up he faces Jimmy Robertson.

Trump said: “I was missing easy balls that I’d never miss. The concentration wasn’t there from the get go. I was sat there feeling tired and I thought I just needed to battle through and not worry about how I did it.”

Stuart Bingham came from 3-2 down to edge out Ashley Carty 4-3. A steely break of 52 in the decider wrapped up the win. He now faces a mouth watering last 16 tie with Shaun Murphy, who defeated Tian Pengfei 4-3 in a late night contest.

October 14 – Morning and afternoon

Higgins Fightback Floors Williams

John Higgins summoned a superb fightback to come from 3-0 down to beat Mark Williams 4-3 at the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

This was the 40th meeting between Higgins and Williams, who joined the circuit in the same year back in 1992. Today’s victory sees four-time Crucible king Higgins move 21-19 in front in the head to head, despite having lost the previous two meetings prior to this afternoon.

The illustrious pair have won no less than 55 ranking titles between them, with Higgins having won 31 to Williams’ 24 event wins.

This afternoon it was Williams who made the fastest start. The Welshman composed breaks of 69 and 53 on his way to establishing a 3-0 advantage, which left him a frame from victory.

Williams had looked set to wrap up the win when he led 54-21 in the fourth, but a missed red allowed Higgins a chance which he swallowed up. The Scot fired in a superb clearance of 42 to keep his chances alive.

Higgins punctuated that steal with a break of 110, which moved him within a frame at 3-2. He then forced a decider by clearing from green to pink to snatch the sixth and make it 3-3. Higgins controlled the final frame and took it to book a quarter-final clash with either Mark Selby or David Gilbert.

“I’m delighted. I was one ball away from losing at 3-0 behind. Mark will be kicking himself,” said 46-year-old Higgins. “I am delighted to come back and win. Mark has beaten me the last few times we have played so it was good to get a little one back on him.

“I think when we were younger we were more rivals. Now, in my eyes, I just enjoy playing those guys and I have so much respect for them. We don’t know how much longer we are going to be playing each other at the top of the game. It is great to be out there playing against someone as good as Mark.”

Masters champion Yan Bingtao edged out six-time World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 4-3 in an enthralling encounter.

Defeat denies O’Sullivan the chance to appear in the final for a fourth consecutive year. The Rocket was runner-up to Judd Trump in each of the last three years, losing all of the finals by a 9-7 scoreline.

Yan reached the final here back in 2017, when he was narrowly beaten 9-8 by Mark Williams. Since then he secured his first Triple Crown victory at the Masters and won a maiden ranking title at the Riga Masters.

Breaks of 89 and 51 helped Yan on his way to leading 3-2 this afternoon. He had looked set to get over the line when he led 71-0 in the fourth. However, 37-time ranking event winner O’Sullivan crafted a superb clearance of 74 to force a decider.

It was Yan who took the final frame on the colours and he will now face Mitchell Mann in the last eight. Mann booked his place in the quarters with a 4-1 defeat of Lyu Haotian.

Shaun Murphy put on a superb display to see off Stuart Bingham 4-1. The Magician conjured breaks of 50, 71, 63 and 110 on his way to the win. Next up the 2005 World Champion will face either Ricky Walden or Jackson Page.

You can read more about Yan’s victory over Ronnie here.

Phil Haigh reflected that Ronnie’s concentration seemed to dip after he got distracted by a spectator moving around whilst he was at the table. Bizarrely, something very similar happened to Mark Williams. Mark was 3-0 up and cruising when he got distracted either by someone in the crowd, or someone in the arena itself, despite the fact that nobody was playing on either of the adjacent tables. Whatever it was, Mark asked the referee, Olivier Marteel, to intervene, which Olivier did. But Mark’s concentration was gone, his next shot was a poor one, he went on to lose that frame and the next three as well…

October 14 – Evening

Trump And Allen To Meet In Belfast

Judd Trump and Mark Allen secured BetVictor Northern Ireland Open last 16 victories to set up a blockbuster quarter-final showdown at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Trump, a winner of 22 ranking titles, booked his passage to the last eight with a narrow 4-3 defeat of former European Masters winner Jimmy Robertson.

The Ace in the Pack is looking for a fourth consecutive Northern Ireland Open title this week. He has beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in all of the previous three finals. Regardless of what happens over the weekend, Trump is guaranteed to overhaul Mark Selby and return to the world number one position at the end of the event.

In a tense encounter, it was Trump who hit the front first this evening. The 2019 World Champion took the opening two frames to lead 2-0. However, Robertson showed his steel to fire back into contention and level at 2-2. Trump then moved a frame from victory, before a run of 59 helped Robertson to force a decider at 3-3.

It was Trump who seized the initiative and led 49-0, before a missed red presented Bexhill’s Robertson with an opportunity. However, he potted just one red before missing a straightforward yellow and Trump crossed the line to secure the win.

Trump said: “It was another really tough one. I was 2-0 up and I kind of took my foot off the gas. The concentration isn’t quite there. I’m normally good that when I have my opponent on the ropes I put them away. I’m just not doing that at the moment. You get punished at this level and I nearly went out because of it.

“I felt a bit nervous out there because I’ve barely played in a tournament all season and you don’t want to go out at this stage. This is where it gets going. I knew this match was to play Mark Allen as well. This is a special event and it will be a special atmosphere tomorrow as well.

“I love it out there. That is the sort of atmosphere I enjoy and Mark Allen is very similar to me. He gets up for the real big events. This tournament is super special to him. He would love to have a great week here, he already has by making a 147. He will be trying to make it the perfect week in Belfast and win the tournament. I am there to try and stop him.”

Northern Ireland’s home hero Allen clinched his progression with an exciting 4-3 win over close friend Stephen Maguire.

Breaks of 101 and 62 helped Allen to establish a 3-1 advantage and move one away from the win. However, Scotland’s Maguire came from 45-0 behind to take the fifth and then ensured a decider with a fine clearance of 89 in the sixth.

Maguire had first chance and made 42 before a slice of misfortune as potted the black and split the reds, only for the cue ball to drop into a centre pocket. Former Masters champion Allen made sublime clearance of 69 which included several excellent pots, as he set up a showdown with Trump. They will take to the baize at 12pm on Friday.

World number 18 David Gilbert beat World Champion and world number one Mark Selby 4-2 to book a quarter-final meeting with John Higgins. Gilbert composed breaks of 115 and 71 on his way to this evening’s win.

Ricky Walden claimed his place in the last eight with a 4-3 defeat of Jackson Page. Next up Walden faces a quarter-final clash with 2005 World Champion Shaun Murphy.

Winning the Championship League at the start of the season seems to have truly transformed David Gilbert. He was always a very good player, now, with this monkey off his back he’s become a top, top player.

I’m also very happy to see Ricky Walden playing well again. He’s champagne when on form. He beat Neil Robertson comprehensively… strange that this is nowhere in those reports.