The International Championship has reached the quarter-final stage and it is safe to say that not many would have predicted the final eight line-up at the start of the week.
A succession of big-hitters had already been accounted for prior to today’s last 16 encounters – world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, defending champion Judd Trump and former world champions John Higgins, Mark Williams and Shaun Murphy to name a few – and a couple more were surprisingly added to that list on Wednesday.
Perhaps the biggest shock came in a match consisting of another pair of Crucible conquerors, world no.1 Neil Robertson and 43 year-old veteran Peter Ebdon.
Robbo has been one of the stars of the season, compiling a barrage of century breaks en route to cementing his place at the top of the rankings list.
However, Ebdon has found some form from seemingly nowhere this week as he enjoys his best run in a tournament for exactly a year, when he reached the semi-finals of the 2012 event in Chengdu.
The Englishman knocked in breaks of 134, 87, 53, 87, 58 and 56 as he overcame one of the best players in the world right now.
In fact, the last two half centuries came in frames that he lost, as Robertson fought back from 3-5 down to force a nervy decider.
But after the Wuxi Classic champion missed the final brown in the eleventh frame, Ebdon was able to down it and later the blue for a memorable win.
Many critics chastise Ebdon for his often slow and frustrating style of play but there are no rules stating that snooker must be always played in an attacking, fluent fashion.
That Ebdon can still produce these displays at this stage of his career is testament to both his ability and his temperament, and any success he has achieved, of which there has been many, is fully deserved.
Ebdon’s task doesn’t get any easier in the last 8, though, as he next comes up against undeniably the hottest cue in snooker at the moment.
China’s own Ding Junhui has collected back-t0-back ranking event titles in Shanghai and New Dehli and remains on course for a third on the trot after a resounding 6-1 triumph over Matthew Stevens.
The 26 year-old would have been expecting a tough battle after his Welsh opponent expelled Higgins in the last round but Ding was superior in every department as he lavishes in the confidence built from his recent spate of silverware.
Ding is now only three games away from becoming the first player to win three on the bounce since Stephen Hendry claimed five in a row 23 year ago.
The task at hand wont be easy despite the fact the bottom section of the draw, which was once littered with star names, has now opened up for him, yet his composed manner around the table is ominous for the remaining competitors.
That said, his countryman Liang Wenbo is enjoying his new-found confidence after picking up an individual pro title for the first time in his career last week and following it up with victory over O’Sullivan in this tournament.
Liang would have been forgiven for coming out today a little flat after such a monumental moment in his career but far from it as he absolutely destroyed Mark Davis 6-1.
The 26 year-old will surely be made to work harder to reach the semi-finals – with Graeme Dott his obstacle after the Scot edged Kurt Maflin 6-5 – but the signs are there that Liang may be ready to return to the big-time after a couple of barren seasons.
Speaking of barren, Ryan Day was once a name bandied around as a potential future world champion, or at least ranking event winner, but has ultimately failed to deliver.
The Welshman has been cueing well, though, and ousted Dubliner Fergal O’Brien 6-3 in what appeared to be an entertaining contest of very high quality.
Day faces Joe Perry in the quarter-finals after the former World and UK Championship semi-finalist upset Mark Allen 6-4.
Both Day and Perry will feel this is an amazing opportunity to reach the last four of a lucrative tournament in its infancy but already boasting a little prestige.
Finally, the fourth tie tomorrow will be between Mark Selby and Marco Fu.
Selby has had a somewhat strange twelve months. Despite collecting the UK and Masters trophies last December and January, the former world no.1 has dropped off the radar a little.
That people were talking more about others rather than him this week may have taken some of the pressure off his shoulders and he now undoubtedly remains the biggest threat to Ding’s quest for a hat-trick. The duo could meet in the final.
Selby crushed Stuart Bingham in the last 16 but Fu should provide a sterner test, still flying high off the back of his Australian Open triumph earlier in the season.
So maybe not the octet people were expecting but an intriguing end to the event to come all the same.
Tomorrow’s quarter-final will be the last round played under best-of-11 frames, with the semis and final a mouth-watering two-session set-up.
The full draw and results can be viewed by clicking here.