There were a lot of close matches in the opening rounds of the Shanghai Masters but that certainly wasn’t the order of day four as the last 16 was played out in China.
A rare hat-trick of whitewashes were bandied out to unfortunate opponents while only one of the eight matches managed to even reach the eighth frame in the best of 9 encounters.
Not all of the clashes went to form, either, as a mixed bag of results ensured that picking a winner this week continues to be troublesome at best.
First to the bagels. You never really expect there to be too many hidings of this magnitude on a single day and given the quality of opposition in each tie it becomes even more surprising.
Arguably the biggest shock of the trio was Joe Perry’s 5-0 demolition of friend and practice partner Neil Robertson.
Perry, a very capable player at his best and a former semi-finalist at the Crucible, has been largely out of the business end of tournaments in recent years aside from a couple of the satellite PTC events where he has embarked on runs to the final.
Indeed, aside from a last eight appearance in the PTC Grand Finals in Galway last March, the last time he reached a quarter-final of a full ranking event was 20 months ago at the 2011 German Masters.
Australian Robertson has often struggled with the conditions of tournament snooker in China so his defeat doesn’t necessarily come as a huge shock to the system but the scoreline definitely does.
Likewise Stephen Maguire, who went down 5-0 to Ali Carter – the same player who ousted him in the semi-finals of the World Championships at the end of last season.
Completing the set was John Higgins, who has clearly enjoyed his few months rest following Sheffield and appears rejuvenated for another concerted crack at winning titles.
Caution should be used when assessing such a strong triumph over Ryan Day, given the fact that the Welshman has a tendency to disappear when a match isn’t going his way, but the further into a tournament Higgins gets the more dangerous he will become.
The 37 year-old hasn’t sealed a semi-final berth at a ranking event since he won the 2011 World Championship so tomorrow’s match-up with the 2010 Shanghai champion Carter should be an intriguing contest.
Probably the two favourites for the title still in the draw both advanced with 5-2 victories.
Last year’s runner-up Mark Williams withstood the challenge of Wuxi Classic champion Ricky Walden while Judd Trump came from 2-0 down to see off Mark Allen in a tense clash.
The match was highly anticipated as two young and fearless potters were set to go toe-to-toe but the pattern of the frames never really materialised in that fashion.
Allen looked comfortable at 2-0 but his fluency, both in amongst the balls and in the safety exchanges, seemed to go AWOL thereafter as Trump, following a 108 century, nicked frame after frame to eventually coast into the next round.
Elsewhere, Stuart Bingham and Graeme Dott defeated Jamie Cope and Stephen Lee 5-1 respectively while the closest match of the day ended in a 5-3 win for Shaun Murphy over Mark King.
At this stage if I had to guess, I would tip Higgins to get to the final from the top half and it’s a toss-up between Williams and Trump in the bottom side of the draw.
But like the previous two ranking tournaments this summer, there’s nothing to suggest there should be any degree of certainty in any prediction.
The full draw and results can be viewed by clicking here.
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