Here are WST accounts on the action in Belfast yesterday:
Thunder Strikes Jester In Belfast
Neil Robertson scored his sixth consecutive win over Mark Selby, clinching a 5-2 victory to reach the semi-finals of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.
Robertson continues his hunt for a maiden Northern Ireland Open crown. The Australian is a two-time winner of the Welsh Open and was victorious at the Scottish Open in 2017. Victory this week would see him complete the Home Nations Slam. He now faces either Mark Allen or Mark Williams tomorrow over the best of 11 frames.
The result also extends his winning streak over Selby to six and enhances his head-to-head record, which now stands at 16-8. Selby’s hopes of earning a maiden Northern Ireland Open title are now over. He too has scored victories at the Scottish, English and Welsh Opens, but the Alex Higgins Trophy remains elusive to the four-time Crucible king.
Robertson took the first frame this afternoon thanks to a break of 73, before a truncated second ended with Selby restoring parity. The Leicester cueman then took the lead courtesy of a 95 break. However, Robertson responded with 97 to head into mid-session level at 2-2.
When play resumed a break of 84 saw Robertson regain the lead. He composed a run of 63 at the start of the sixth, but Selby had the chance to clear from the last red and steal. He elected to play a snooker rather than attempt a difficult positional shot to get on the black. Robertson managed to escape and eventually won the frame to move one from the win. Breaks of 73 and 53 in the seventh saw him over the line.
“I thought it was really good. Certainly my best performance of the week. Every time I seemed to go for a long ball they went in and I scored very heavily from it as well,” said 40-year-old Robertson.
“There are a few matches against Mark in the last couple of years where I’ve won deciders. They are a toss of a coin that could go either way. It isn’t like I’ve got the wood on him, but it is a great record to have. He is a wonderful player.
“It is an extra incentive this week to try to win as nobody has won all four Home Nations before. It is a nice thing to try and do. I am very motivated coming here anyway because I haven’t got the best record in this event. It is great to get down to the one table set up and I’m sure it will be an amazing crowd at the weekend.”
In the afternoon’s other quarter-final, Zhou Yuelong rallied from 4-2 down to defeat David Gilbert 5-4 and book his place in the semis.
China’s Zhou will now appear in the semi-finals of a ranking event for the fifth time in his career. He’s been runner-up on two occasions at the 2020 Shoot Out and the 2020 European Masters.
Gilbert crafted breaks of 84, 71, 60 and 55 on his way to establishing his 4-2 advantage. However, he faltered at the finish line and missed several opportunities. Zhou fully capitalised and breaks of 63, 54 and 130 gave him three on the bounce to emerge a 5-4 victor. He faces either Anthony McGill or Lyu Haotian tomorrow.
As you would expect, the Neil Robertson v Mark Selby match was a high quality affair, well appreciated by the Eurosport pundits. Mark Selby wasn’t yet at his best but he did play much better than in previous rounds. Ronnie in the studio said that Neil is the best player in the World at the moment and, based on this performance, it’s hard to argue against that. This was a great advert for snooker.
Zhou is not the most flamboyant of the young Chinese players, but he’s a very solid all-rounder. He showed a solid temperament from a very young age. The 9-0 trashing that Neil Robertson inflicted him in the 2020 European Masters appeared to have shaken his confidence, but yesterdays win can only contribute to restore his self-belief. The same can’t be said from David Gilbert who appeared increasingly shaky and angry as the match unfolded.
Allen Beats Williams In Thriller
Defending champion Mark Allen edged a pulsating quarter-final encounter with 24-time ranking event winner Mark Williams 5-4 to make the semi-finals of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.
Antrim’s Allen delighted a raucous home crowd by securing victory this evening. He scored an emotional title winning triumph here at the Waterfront Hall 12 months ago, defeating John Higgins 9-8 in the final to claim the Alex Higgins Trophy for the first time.
Allen’s run this week has seen him extend his winning streak in Belfast 12 matches. He will be aiming to make it 13 tomorrow evening when he faces Neil Robertson over the best of 11 frames.
Williams dramatically claimed his first ranking silverware in six years here in 2017, defeating Yan Bingtao 9-8 in the final. That sparked a revival which saw him pick up his third Crucible title at the 2018 World Championship. However, this evening’s narrow defeat ends his hopes of a second Northern Irish Open crown.
Williams flew out of the blocks with breaks of 62 and 70 to establish an early 2-0 lead. However, Allen emphatically responded and runs of 77 and 74 helped him to restore parity at 2-2.
Former Masters winner Allen then comfortably claimed the next two frames to make it 4-2 and four on the bounce, in a run where he restricted Williams to just 11 points across those frames.
Despite that period of being frozen out, Williams rallied to force his way back into the tie. The Welshman claimed two 30-minute frames to force a decider.
It was Allen who took control of the final frame, but Williams had a chance to steal the tie. With the other balls in favourable positions, he elected to take on a difficult black along the top cushion. It remained over the pocket and Allen got over the line to secure his place in the semis.
Allen said: “It’s mad the things you can think about. I played him four years ago in China, I was 60 points up and he cleared up to beat me in the decider. It is nice to have those negative thoughts out there, but I was only thinking of that when he was at the table. I thought he’d do it again as he does it time and time again. That is why he has one of the best bottles in the game, him and John Higgins set themselves apart.
“The atmosphere was brilliant. I’m fortunate that they’ve supported me since round one. I couldn’t believe the crowds in the first round, it was huge. They are so fair though. They applauded when he played a good shot, but they always get behind their own. There were 90% in there behind me. They were still respectful to Mark though.
“I need to go out there and play well. I know that Neil is going to play well. I need to play better.”
Scotland’s Anthony McGill won a dramatic last eight clash with Lyu Haotian to book his place in the semi-finals. The two-time ranking event winner and former Crucible semi-finalist will now face Zhou Yuelong for a place in the title match.
McGill crafted runs of 56, 95, 85 and 112 on his way to earning a 4-3 advantage. Lyu had looked set to force a decider, when he left McGill requiring two snookers in the eighth. However, McGill got them and pulled off a superb clearance to the black to progress.
Judging by Mark Allen’s performance yesterday, we are in for a treat today when he meets Neil Robertson tonight. Whoever emerges the winner will be a huge favourite for the title.
Zhou is probably better equipped than Lyu when it’s about trying to beat someone like Ants McGill because he’s more of an all-rounder. It should be an interesting match.
In other news… Ronnie was caught practising …