Northern Ireland Open: Mark Allen to play John Higgins in final

Mark Allen achieved a maximum break earlier this week in Belfast
Allen knocked out three-time defending champion Judd Trump in the quarter-finals on Friday

Home hope Mark Allen remains on course for a first Northern Ireland Open title after beating England's Ricky Walden 6-3 in his semi-final on Saturday.

The 35-year-old will face John Higgins in Sunday's best-of-17-frame final after the Scot saw off Masters champion Yan Bingtao 6-2 at the last-four stage.

Higgins recovered from 2-0 down to take the next six frames and book his place in the Waterfront Hall decider.

Higgins and Allen have played 18 times, winning nine matches each so far.

The tournament winner will collect a first prize of £70,000 and the Alex Higgins Trophy.

Allen led 2-0 in his semi-final in Belfast but Walden levelled with runs of 73 and 80 after potting 10 opening reds and blacks in frame four.

The Antrim man won three in a row after the interval - which included a 133 break - and while Walden snatched frame eight, Allen then closed out the match.

Allen's best previous performance in his home event was reaching the quarter-finals in 2016 but he is having a memorable week in Belfast after achieving a 147 in the first round and then coming back from 3-0 down to stun three-time defending champion Judd Trump in the quarter-finals on Friday.

"I'm trying not to build it up because then you put more pressure on yourself but to win in front of your home fans would be very, very special," Allen told Eurosport after his semi-final victory.

"I knew it was a big occasion but I tried to loosen myself up a bit after the interval by going for a few more shots."

Allen shows admirable composure

The Northern Irishman, who has been staying in a hotel close to the tournament venue instead of at home, showed impressive composure to regain the initiative after Walden had fought back from his slow start to level by the mid-session interval.

Allen dominated the first two frames, helped by a break of 66 in the second, but a missed pink to the middle in the third saw Walden, 38, hit back to open his account as he put together a run of 73.

The Englishman potted the opening 10 reds and blacks in frame four but his hopes of matching Allen's Sunday maximum were dashed as he lost position.

A break of 43 helped Allen regain the lead following the mid-session interval and after he won a marathon 52-minute sixth frame to move 4-2 up, a magnificent total clearance of 133 put the Northern Irishman on the brink of victory.

Allen's desperately unlucky in-off in frame eight was punished as Walden's brave break of 59 kept the match alive but the Northern Irishman maintained the admirable composure he has shown this week as a break of 73, helped by an audacious double, secured his victory.

Yan Bingtao faces John Higgins in the second semi-final in Belfast on Saturday evening
Yan Bingtao beat John Higgins in last season's Masters final

The world number 11 is chasing a sixth ranking tournament title with his career also including triumphs in the two big invitational events, the Masters and Champion of Champions.

Walden, ranked 29th, was competing in his first ranking semi-final since the 2016 China Open after a run in Belfast which included victories over former world champions Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy.

The second semi-final was a repeat of last season's Masters final when China's Yan defeated Scotland's Higgins 10-8.

Yan Bingtao, world ranked 15 took the first frame of their contest with a 66 break and took the next also, but four-time world champion Higgins, seventh in the rankings, reeled off breaks of 52, 83, 61, 78, 75 and 90 to progress to Sunday's decider.

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