The Shanghai Masters has reached the semi-final stage and what an intriguing looking foursome there will be cueing up on the baize at the crack of dawn tomorrow.
Three ex-world champions and a young pretender who many predict to be the sport’s next biggest superstar will battle it out for the two sole places in Sunday’s final.
Each in their own right will have personal reasons for wanting to be successful this weekend as all have struggled in some form or another in the recent past – granted, some more so than others.
Scotland’s John Higgins is definitely the player out of the pack who has suffered the most adversity over the last year or more.
It has been a rollercoaster ride of a two-year spell in what has been a glittering career for the 37 year-old.
In May, 2010 Higgins was embroiled in a bribing scandal that led to a six-month suspension from the game.
Upon his return, the ‘Wizard of Wishaw’ played like a man possessed and, either side of the sad death of his father, Higgins won almost everything he contested – including the 2011 World Championship.
Yet, his form last year plummeted and it has taken him until this week to regain the confidence that has brought him four world titles.
Indeed, today’s victory over Ali Carter ensured that Higgins booked a semi-final berth at a full ranking event for the first time since his last triumph at the Crucible.
Many are cautious about Higgins’ return to form, comparing his inconsistency with the likes of Davis, White and Hendry when they reached a similar age, and perhaps with good reason.
But he’s not quite 40 yet and, in actual fact, the 40 somethings have been doing rather well of late so, rested following a summer vacation from the sport, Higgins could well be a dangerous phenomenon this season – starting tomorrow.
His obstacle to a place in the final is Englishman Shaun Murphy, who overcame a particularly out of sorts Stuart Bingham in the last eight 5-1.
Murphy hasn’t struggled in the last couple of years, far from it actually as a quick glance at his record in tournament play will show a merit of consistency.
But while there has been a gaggle of quarter and semi-finals, Murphy has failed to translate them into finals and trophies.
The Brazil Masters invitational tournament last year aside, Murphy hasn’t been in the winners enclosure since 2010 which is, by all account, far too long for someone of his calibre.
From what I have seen this week, he’ll have to improve on his game to overcome Higgins but he is well capable of doing that and may indeed relish the opportunity of playing such a formidable foe.
The other last four clash is mouth-watering. There isn’t really another way of putting it.
Like the other pairing, Judd Trump and Mark Williams will both have reasons of their own to get their names etched on the trophy.
At world no.2, it might seem a little odd stating that Trump may feel he has something to prove so early on in his career.
Indeed, it reads rather silly. But the fact of the matter remains that the 23 year-old has not performed at his best since bursting onto the scene in April, 2011 and subsequently winning the UK Championship last December.
There is an enormous amount of pressure on his shoulders to be the next Alex Higgins, Jimmy White or Ronnie O’Sullivan – a player who can transform the image of the game and put bums on seats.
Whether this has anything to do with his drop in form is simply speculation but he’ll be eager to put a stop to any such queries by notching up his third ranking title.
Williams, meanwhile, has suffered since surrendering a 9-7 lead in last year’s Shanghai Masters final to lose in dramatic and controversial fashion to Mark Selby – with the Leicester man also grabbing the Welshman’s world no.1 spot in the process.
It continued a succession of major blow-ups from Williams, who time after time over the course of a nine-month stretch appeared to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and he has not really recovered since.
This is the 37 year-old’s first ranking event semi-final since this time last year and it would be fitting if he could right the wrongs at the same venue.
Either way, it promises to be a fascinating finale to what has become one of the most sought after titles in snooker.
The full draw and results can be viewed by clicking here.
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