The quarter-final line-up at the Crucible was completed last night with Ronnie O’Sullivan still firmly in the hunt for glory in Sheffield.
The reigning champion’s World Snooker Championships odds have been cut to 2/1 as he effortlessly shifted through the gears to overcome Ali Carter in a repeat of last year’s final.
O’Sullivan had allowed Carter to come back to 7-7 in the second session having seemingly built up an early commanding 5-1 lead.
But the 37 year-old stepped on the gas pedal thereafter, allowing the German Masters champion only one more frame as he rattled off breaks of 73, 86, 88, 106 and 89 to complete the 13-8 victory.
The ‘Rocket’ is definitely playing well enough to become the first person to successfully defend the title since Stephen Hendry’s run of five in a row from 1992 to 1996.
The Chigwell cueist looks devastating when in and around the black spot area, accumulating frame winning breaks in a matter of just a few minutes.
This is so damaging to an opponent’s confidence because a match can effectively be over in a half an hour spell.
When Carter knocked in a confident 86 break to get back to 10-8 down the 33 year-old was still right the contest, but Ronnie dominated the conclusion, wrapping up the triumph with three fluent breaks in succession.
O’Sullivan’s next challenger is Stuart Bingham, who battled past Mark Davis 13-10 in a grueling affair.
Bingham was by far the better of the pair, firing in two centuries and a flurry of other breaks above 50, but still struggled to see off his fellow Englishman and book a maiden quarter-final berth at the Crucible.
Bingham will have to play a lot tighter snooker if he wants to overcome O’Sullivan but he is well capable of doing so.
What the former Australian Open champion needs to capitalise on is O’Sullivan’s lack of productivity from long-range.
If the latter continues to miss distance pots, Bingham has to make sure to amass frame winning contributions and punish the four-time champion.
Even still, it is hard to imagine ‘Ballrun’ being able to live with O’Sullivan in the form he is currently showing.
The second encounter in the top half is without doubt the match of the round.
2005 champion Shaun Murphy and Judd Trump, runner-up two years ago to John Higgins, do battle for a place in the last four.
The duo have produced some excellent snooker so far in this year’s tournament and both have benefited from the media attention surrounding O’Sullivan and the barrage of upsets in the first week – thus coming in slightly under the radar.
This will, in particular, help Trump, who one feels hasn’t handled the huge exposure bandied on him with the greatest of ease.
A fairly dramatic decline in form following his ascension to the top of the world rankings and his victory at the International Championship has led to fewer people considering him for this year’s trophy.
Yet, I was of the opinion that the Bristolian’s route to this stage suited the 23 year-old and once here he would be fully warmed to the task at hand.
Trump therefore remains my tip for the title, but only marginally ahead of O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui.
Murphy’s name should by no means be ruled out but there is a major question mark as to whether he has the consistency at the moment to remain strong at the business end of tournaments.
The 30 year-old is capable of proving doubters wrong but the stats don’t lie, and the Englishman’s record in the latter stages have not made for kind reading in recent times.
The bottom half of the draw may not boast as many of the top players but is still extremely competitive.
Ding Junhui will be the firm favourite to progress and make his first appearance in a World final but he must first dislodge Barry Hawkins – a ranking event winner this season in Australia.
Hawkins played some hard snooker to see off an out-of-sorts world no.1 Mark Selby in the last 16 to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
Ding, so often an early round victim in Sheffield, produced some scintillating snooker to come from 6-2 down to beat Mark King 13-9.
The Chinese has the weight of a very large nation on his shoulders – pressure in which he has struggled to handle at times in his career.
However, the PTC Grand Finals champion has matured in the last few years and doesn’t let lacklustre sessions or poor run of the ball affect him as much as it used to.
In fact, his temperament is almost as solid as the best of them these days and his general demeanor around the table is one of somebody who is a lot more relaxed in his environment.
Ding continues to struggle at his home events but if he was to become the first Chinese world champion he would be idolised like a king.
Hawkins is a good player who rarely has an off day on the baize. In saying that, it is unusual for him to dominate sessions either which, given the fact Ding can string consecutive frames together at a rapid pace, would stand against the Kent cueman.
In the final last 8 clash, two players are making their debuts in the round while one of them is enjoying a memorable maiden experience in the competition in general.
21 year-old Michael White has been widely tipped to become a superstar in the game for the best part of a decade but struggled to find his feet up until now.
Although he has played very well so far, it is a little difficult to exactly pinpoint where his standard is at because his first round opponent in Mark Williams has endured a rough season while Dechawat Poomjaeng didn’t turn up following his heroics over Stephen Maguire.
The Welshman is yet to be tested so it will be interesting to see how he will be able to cope should he be forced to contend in a closer encounter.
That will be all down to Chester’s Ricky Walden, who was just about able to get to the winning post ahead of Robert Milkins last night – emerging victorious with a 13-11 scoreline.
Walden has had an odd campaign. He started it off by winning the Wuxi Classic almost 12 months ago, then went completely off the boil before enjoying a renaissance at the season’s climax.
This tie is very difficult to call as, with the lack of experience on both sides, it could be a runaway for either or it could go right down to the final black in a deciding frame.
However, the Englishman is a two-time ranking event champion and should therefore be considered as the most likely man to advance.
There are still seven more days left in this exhausting marathon of the mind.
Most other tournaments would only be beginning today but the World Championship is such a seismic test that ten days have already been and gone.
Who will win this year’s edition? The World Snooker Championships betting would suggest that Ronnie O’Sullivan is now the man to beat.
After today and tomorrow, we will be one step closer to realising if that is indeed the case.
The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.