Higgins Sets up Clash with O’Sullivan

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui remained on course for a clash in the Welsh Open final as both came through their respective fourth round encounters unscathed.

World and Masters champion O’Sullivan recorded his fourth successive 4-1 victory of the tournament, on this occasion over Ricky Walden.

The ‘Rocket’ had good recent memories of playing Walden, having dismantled him 6-0 in the Masters in a match he accumulated a record 556 unanswered points.

The Chester cuiest didn’t fare much better this time around and was 3-0 behind in a blink of an eye, with O’Sullivan improving in each frame and landing a century in the third.

Walden avoided a second whitewash in as many months but he was powerless as an effortless O’Sullivan cruised into the last eight.

There, the 38 year-old will come up against old foe and familiar face John Higgins.

Scotland’s Higgins has struggled for much of the campaign following his excellent start when he claimed the Bulgaria Open title and subsequently reached the final of the Wuxi Classic.

The four-time world champion has tinkered with his cue on several occasions and in a recent interview expressed concerns that his career may be heading in a downward spiral.

However, Higgins has produced some good snooker so far this week in Newport, an event he has been successful in three times, and he followed up a hat-trick of whitewash wins with a gutsy 4-3 triumph over Judd Trump.

Higgins was never behind in the encounter but could have been forgiven for letting his head drop when he went in-off with the cue ball on virtually match ball in the sixth frame.

Despite his opponent having forced a decider, though, the ‘Wizard of Wishaw’ steeled himself for glory in what was an entertaining affair.

The clash between O’Sullivan and Higgins certainly has a flavour of the past about it and, although the former will start as the clear favourite, Higgins has always been a player who can get one over on O’Sullivan.

Ding, meanwhile, in the top half of the draw, was convincing in a 4-0 thrashing of Scott Donaldson.

The Chinese sensation has already captured a quartet of ranking event trophies this season and it is looking increasingly ominous that he could be launching his attack on a fifth.

What could potentially help his cause even further is how defending champion Stephen Maguire, who Ding was due to meet next, fell 4-3 to 19 year-old Joel Walker.

Walker, once mentored by O’Sullivan, has long been tipped as a future champion and, despite Maguire apparently claiming that he had never even heard of him, the Sheffield shooter is beginning to make his mark.

That said, while Maguire represents an awesome scalp for the teenager, Ding is yet another step up in class and it will be difficult for the youngster to repeat the trick and reach his maiden semi-final.

The other two quarter-final ties feature three ranking event winners and one who perhaps is one of the best players to have never achieved the accolade.

Joe Perry is among a few names – like Anthony Hamilton and Ryan Day – who it is perhaps surprising that they have not lifted more silverware in their careers.

Perry, now 39, is having a good outing in Wales, reaching the last eight the hard way after back-to-back seven frame victories over Matthew Stevens and Stuart Bingham.

The former Championship League winner will challenge world no.2 Mark Selby in an effort to continue his run after the 2008 champion overcame the 2009 winner Ali Carter.

Finally, two solid top professionals in Barry Hawkins and Marco Fu will do battle – the latter having ousted the last remaining home hopeful Mark Williams 4-2.

The quarter-finals stage sees the format increase to best of nine frames as the competition becomes even fiercer.

The full draw can be viewed here.

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