We’re into the final week of the 2014 World Snooker Championship and the field of 32 players has been whittled down to the last eight.
The defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan remains the favourite but he is joined by two further former world champions, a trio of previous runners-up, a former Masters champion and a two-time ranking event winner.
To say that the tournament boasts a collection of players who garner plenty of experience in the big moments is an understatement.
That, then, should result in a thrilling climax to this year’s event at the Crucible in Sheffield.
Let’s have a look at the four quarter-final ties.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Shaun Murphy
Reigning champ Ronnie O’Sullivan was given his sternest test at the Crucible in years as he came through a titanic tussle with fellow Englishman Joe Perry a 13-11 winner.
The ‘Rocket’ had been 11-9 down at the final mid-session interval but refused to let his chances of a sixth crown, equaling the greats Steve Davis and Ray Reardon, go at such an early stage.
Not many would have expected Perry to have wilted under the pressure of facing O’Sullivan but even fewer would have predicted how grueling a contest he provided the 38 year-old with.
There were long periods of the match in which it looked like O’Sullivan’s 11-match unbeaten streak in the arena was coming to an unlikely end.
For long periods the Chigwell cueist was not at his best, struggling particularly with his safety and long potting.
However, resuming 9-7 down, he managed to turn things around in the last session and was at his vintage best at the death as he fired in consecutive century breaks to seal the comeback victory.
O’Sullivan’s fist pump reaction to the delight of the crowd reflected what the win meant to him and his ambitions of a third title on the trot live on strongly.
It doesn’t get any easier, though, with 2005 champion Shaun Murphy his upcoming challenge.
Murphy had a slightly easier time of it in his last 16 clash with Hong Kong’s Marco Fu.
This affair was expected to be close from the beginning and so it proved as it stood at 9-7 in favour of the Englishman at the end of the second session.
Many still thought it could go all the way to a decider but a couple of close frames went in favour of Murphy early in the third session and when he went 12-7 ahead the writing was on the wall.
Fu mounted a mini comeback but it was always going to be a lot of work to get back on level terms and Murphy progressed with a 13-8 success.
It’s been a good second half to the season for Murphy, having emerged with titles in the Gdynia Open and Hiakou World Open – his first pieces of silverware in almost three years.
The 31 year-old and O’Sullivan actually haven’t met all that many times outside of the Premier League but their last meeting in a ranking event came over the best-of-25 frames in the second round of the 2011 World Championship.
O’Sullivan won that duel 13-10 and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it go that close, or even closer, this time around as well.
One feels that Murphy has to pound O’Sullivan early just as Perry managed to do and perhaps the ‘Magician’ will be bettered equipped to maintain a lead if he can attain one.
Yet, O’Sullivan will be full of confidence again with the manner of his latest victory and he may begin to play with a renewed sense of freedom – an ominous sight for any opponent.
Predicted Winner: Ronnie O’Sullivan
Barry Hawkins vs Dominic Dale
This was the quarter that everyone expected to be dominated by five-time ranking event winner this season Ding Junhui.
However, the Chinese was sent crashing in the first round in a deciding frame thriller with debutant Michael Wasley.
Wasley’s heroics, having come through four rounds of qualifying to even get to the Crucible for the first time, spent his energy and it was always going to be difficult for him to continue his run even longer.
Dominic Dale, thus, was able to capitalise and inflict a heavy 13-4 defeat on the Gloucester ‘Gladiator’ to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in 14 years.
Dale has been a solid professional for more than two decades and is in an elite band of players who have won a ranker – in fact, he’s won two.
Unbelievably, for a player of obvious ability, the Welshman has never featured inside the world’s top 16, surely making him the best player never to do so.
The 42 year-old, dubbed the ‘Spaceman’ for his eccentric manner both on and off the table, is a likable guy who has a good affiliation with many fans the world over.
After winning the Sky Shoot-Out in January, Dale has enjoyed a return to form and his place in the last eight is deserved given the hard graft he puts in.
Whether or not he can go on to feature in the one-table set-up of the semi-finals remains to be seen, but it is fair to label him as the second favourite in his encounter with Hawkins.
Last year’s runner-up looked excellent in his first match with David Gilbert but needed all of his recently acquired mettle on the circuit to overcome common rival Ricky Walden 13-11.
This pair had already fought out a couple of tight battles in the last year, with Hawkins coming out on top in Sheffield at the semi-final stage 12 months ago and Walden coming from 5-2 behind to edge the ‘Hawk’ 6-5 in this season’s Masters.
It was Kent player’s turn this time again as the PTC Grand Finals champion came from 9-5 down to just pip his friend at the death.
Hawkins has been one of the most improved players on the Main Tour over the last couple of seasons, funnily enough since he himself collected the Shoot-Out trophy in 2012.
The 35 year-old will therefore start this match as favourite but it would be foolish to rule out Dale completely as he is the type of player who can conjure up fantastic snooker from almost nowhere.
In addition, this may be his last chance he will have to get this far in the big one again, so he will certainly be giving it his all, but Hawkins definitely has the edge on paper.
Predicted Winner: Barry Hawkins
Mark Selby vs Alan McManus
The third quarter-final is another that, on paper, appears to favour one player considerably more than the other.
Alan McManus has already emerged victorious in two battles of the oldies with fellow Scotsman John Higgins and Ireland’s Ken Doherty.
Like Dale, his run is fully deserved and comes off the back of a very credible season that has seen the Glaswegian return to competitive form and, now, ultimately back into the world’s top 32.
Having knocked out Doherty, 43 year-old McManus is now the oldest competitor left in the draw but he’ll undoubtedly be prepared for another big test.
McManus is regarded as one of the best tacticians of all-time and with a nickname like ‘Angles’ you begin to understand why.
He will have to draw on all of those qualities if he is going to overcome another fantastic all-rounder in world no.2 Mark Selby.
The ‘Jester from Leicester’ played very good match snooker as he saw off the challenge of Ali Carter in the second round.
Selby is in the last eight for the first time in three years but he will be desperate to go even further and prove the doubters wrong who label him as the master of brinkmanship, but not necessarily a virtuoso of success.
The 30 year-old reached the final here in 2007 but has not been beyond the semis since then and his defining moments belong to the invitational Masters tournament.
Ironically, here too is where McManus’ career highlight lies after he inflicted a first ever defeat in the tournament on Stephen Hendry in the 1994 final at the Wembley Conference Centre.
McManus benefited from two poor performances from Higgins and Doherty to reach this stage so he will probably have to improve his play if he is to handle the pressure Selby will inevitably apply – but there is no reason why the two-time former semi-finalist cant do this.
That said, even if it does stay close throughout, one would expect Selby’s greater experience in the high-pressured moments of the last decade would be the pivotal difference between the pair.
Predicted Winner: Mark Selby
Judd Trump vs Neil Robertson
From the moment the draw was made the bottom half always looked loaded with star names and so it has proved to be the case.
Judd Trump and Neil Robertson arguably provides us with the tie of the round and potentially the match of the championship.
The duo famously met in the opening round in 2011, when Robertson was the defending champion and just following Trump’s maiden ranking event glory in the China Open.
The Bristol potter emerged victorious on that occasion with a 10-8 scoreline and went on to the final where he narrowly lost to John Higgins amidst a spine-tingling Crucible atmosphere.
A lot has changed since then, though.
Trump briefly went on to become the world no.1 but that position is now held by Robertson as the former goes through his biggest period without sustained success since that initial triumph in Beijing.
Australia’s Robertson, on the other hand, is in the form of his life having captured the UK Championship in December and has accumulated an incredible 99 century breaks so far in this season alone.
This scoring power is the likes of which we have never seen before and it is only a matter of time before he compiles the ton of tons in this eagerly awaited clash.
Many will predict this one to be a gripping duel, and it could well be, but given their respective forms it’s just as likely to be a Robertson rout.
24 year-old Trump hasn’t played particularly well in either of his first two matches but was fortunate to be up against Tom Ford, incapable of punishing Trump’s poor play, in the opening round and a lackluster Ryan Day, overwhelmed by a succession of careless errors, in the last 16.
Trump is trying to become a better all-round player, which in time will no doubt come to fruition and make him a more accomplished machine, but right now he’s coming up against a man who is already at the point.
If Trump scores well he is always a match for anybody on his day but, if he doesn’t, he will have to rely on improved safety and his opponent wilting under the pressure – the latter of which being extremely unlikely.
Robertson looks more focused than he has ever been, which is saying something considering his attitude toward application in the last couple of years, and at this stage you’d have to fancy him for a place in the final.
Predicted Winner: Neil Robertson