The Wuxi Classic has reached the last four stage with a more than justifiable quartet of players bidding for the first ranking event of the season in China.
The quarter-final proved to be the end of the road for Ireland’s David Morris, but he can be content in the knowledge that he broke his previous best finish in a ranker by two rounds.
There’s a long season ahead and the 24 year-old will hopefully be able to use the confidence built from this run, and most importantly his steely 5-4 victory over Ali Carter, as a stepping stone for even greater things in the future.
What his success also did was release, albeit still small, some extra exposure for the sport in Ireland – something the country desperately needs to help inspire a new younger generation to come through.
Morris lost 5-2 to Matthew Stevens having at one point led 2-1, but admitted he failed to get out of neutral after the mid-session interval.
Welshman Stevens has done well to get this far considering he has been nowhere near his best but that in itself is a testament to the talent he possesses.
And for a man of such pedigree, it remains a wonder how his one and only ranking event title came at the UK Championship almost ten years ago.
The 35 year-old has of course also won the Masters but if his career was to end today he would ultimately be remembered as a nearly man.
There is still time to put that right. He reached the final of the World Open a few months ago and old adversary John Higgins stands in his way of a return to a similar stage in the People’s Republic.
The Scot isn’t going to be an easy man to pass, though. Higgins too hasn’t been at his brilliant best in this tournament yet has still eased his way through the rounds, overcoming Asian PTC champion Joe Perry 5-2 in the last 8.
Clearly bolstered by his triumph in Bulgaria a few weeks ago, the four-time world champion has regained the dogged never-say-die, slog-to-the-end spirit that surprisingly vanished from his game during the last campaign.
This will be an interesting encounter and one that you feel could be run very close.
It is almost obvious to say that it is more important for Stevens to get off to a good start but both players are capable of stringing several frames together at a canter.
In the other semi-final, Neil Robertson takes on arguably the most improved player on the circuit in the last year in Robert Milkins.
I think most would agree that Gloucester’s Milkins was the outstanding player of the last season of those ranked outside the top 16.
His improvement has come from years of hard graft, the increased amount of chances the players are now been offered to compete competitively and a ripple effect of positive results that breeds confidence.
Milkins after this tournament will find himself in the elite bracket of 16 for the first time in his career and while it doesn’t carry as much clout as it used to, there is still the prestige that comes from being a member.
The 37 year-old ousted Anthony Hamilton 5-3 in a scrappy affair to match his best performance in a ranking event.
It’ll take some doing to go one further as he comes up against current world no.1 Robertson for a shot at lifting the trophy.
The Australian was made to work extremely hard for his win over home hopeful Cao ‘Eric’ Yupeng before eventually emerging in a decider.
In a compelling contest that ebbed one way and then the other, the China Open champion found himself 4-3 down and on the cusp of a shock defeat.
But he showed why he currently holds the top spot by completely shutting out his opponent in the last two frames to earn a hard-fought victory.
It would be difficult to bet against a Robertson v Higgins final but both semi-finals could yet prove to be close.
Either way, the Wuxi Classic has so far been a rather entertaining competition, helped in some way by the new format, and hopefully it will get the finale it deserves.
The full draw and list of results can be viewed by clicking here.