The quarter-final line-up for the 2013 Players Tour Championship Grand Finals in Galway has been confirmed and what an intriguing round it promises to be.
A mixture of proven champions, journeymen and up-and-comers ensures that the climax to the series at the Bailey Allen Hall should be an exciting one.
The tie of the round is undoubtedly the clash between Mark Allen and Ding Junhui.
Allen has been in sterling form of late, recording two whitewash victories in this tournament off the back of claiming his second ranking title at the World Open earlier in March.
The 27 year-old Northern Irishman is a player who many believe could not just be a consistent winner on the Main Tour, but also a world number one and eventual world champion.
The way that he is playing proves that he is capable of such achievements and if he was to make it back-to-back ranking titles the headlines would certainly shift in his favour – which is ironic given the fact he was once notorious for being in the newspapers for the wrong reasons.
Once again, he draws a parallel with his legendary countryman Alex Higgins.
Allen is box-office material of the highest order and his involvement at the business end of any tournament is welcomed but so too is the presence of Ding when the Chinese is on form.
‘When’ is the question. Ding has the talent to annihilate opponents, yet he lacks the consistency to rise to the summit of the sport.
One thing the 25 year-old has improved is his temperament, though.
At one time, it was common to see a then young and naive Ding slumped in his seat, half asleep, when things weren’t going his way.
But he is more relaxed within himself now, smiles around the table and as time goes by is becoming an increasingly popular character – comparisons in both his style of play and his attitude can be made with Jimmy White in his early days.
Whoever wins between Allen and Ding will probably become the favourite for the title but Australian Neil Robertson will have something to say about that.
Amazingly, Robertson, who in 2010 was on a run of five consecutive calendar years winning a main ranking event, has now not won one for two and a half years.
The 31 year-old finished runner-up to Stephen Lee in this event last year and also was denied the International Championship by Judd Trump earlier this season.
Robertson has not been in trouble in any way, he has been steady in fact. But for a player who only knows winning it must come as a bit of a shock to the system when big trophies aren’t coming his way regularly.
The 2010 world champion faces Xiao Guodong for a place in the semi-finals, with the 24 year-old making the last 8 in the Grand Finals for the second time.
China’s number three, Xiao is a player who many reckon can break into the Top 16 and be part of the inevitable Chinese dynasty in snooker.
Twelve months ago he reached this stage with a broken hand, against the wishes of his doctor who felt he should withdraw. That, for one thing, shows his dedication.
The other two quarter-final ties are intriguing as well.
Marco Fu gained revenge for the German Masters final defeat to Ali Carter by overcoming the Englishman 4-1 yesterday.
The Hong Kong native is not playing well, openly admitting so, but is content in the knowledge that it doesn’t matter if he wins ugly or not – it’s all the same end result.
His wife Shirley gave birth to their first born in December and perhaps this has given the former Grand Prix and Premier League champion a new perspective on life and his career.
Ford is a bit of an enigma. His potential is there for everyone to see, specifically when he made his unbelievable 147 in 8 minutes at the Bulgarian Open.
Yet, his temperament leaves a lot to be desired and he often struggles in front of the TV cameras when the pressure cooker is at its highest.
Finally, there’s Ben Woollaston and Kurt Maflin.
Both players improved on their record best runs in rankers with respective 4-3 victories in the second round.
Woollaston has won a PTC event in the past while Maflin is known as being a prolific break builder.
However, neither have been able to make the step into the higher echelons of the game so it will be interesting to see who can grab this opportunity by the scruff of the neck.
Either way, the eve of St. Patrick’s Day promises to be a fantastic spectacle of snooker in the west of Ireland.
The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.