The Shanghai Masters has reached the semi-final stage with a quartet of top players gunning for the title in China.
The 2014 edition of the event got under an unusual start with many of the favoured players falling by the wayside early on, including the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and Neil Robertson.
However, the four highest ranked remaining competitors in the quarter-finals all emerged victorious to set up a grandstand finish to the tournament this weekend.
The top two seeds, defending champion Ding Junhui and world champion Mark Selby, are on course to meet in the final of a ranking event for only the second time but will each first face stiff competition in the last four.
Home favourite Ding had too much for Scotland’s Graeme Dott on Friday, running out a 5-2 winner over the 2006 Crucible king, and he’ll face Stuart Bingham after the Englishman finally put an end to Alan McManus’ wonderful run that saw him beat O’Sullivan and Stephen Maguire.
The Chinese will certainly begin the encounter as favourite but his head-to-head record with Bingham is an interesting one that somewhat surprisingly sees the latter with an 6-4 advantage in their 10 meetings so far.
Indeed, Bingham has emerged victorious from their last three encounters, including in their last clash which was similarly at the semi-final stage of a ranking event at the 2013 Welsh Open when the 38 year-old edged the contest in a thriller 6-5.
The partisan crowd wont mind an equally enthralling tie this time around but will be desperate to see a different outcome as they hope their man can claim a fourth trophy on home soil in just 12 months – strange, considering all of Ding’s troubles in China prior to this period.
The 27 year-old is a new breed of snooker player nowadays though, confident in both his own natural talent to score heavily and also his new-found ability to compete tactically with the best.
The fact that Ding is performing so well despite the fact that he hasn’t played since the Yixing Open in June, which he won, is worrying for his opponents, and should he collect the title on Sunday it will be an ominous sign for the remainder of the season to come.
However, there is still some ways to go for that conclusion to materialise and, even if he gets past the tricky challenge of Bingham, another would surely await him in the final.
Marks Selby and Allen are equally in a rich vein of form already in this campaign and their semi-final encounter promises to be a humdinger.
Winners of the two European Tour events so far this season in Riga and Furth, Selby and Allen have too met in the last four of a ranking event before – at the 2012 World Open where the Northern Irishman won 6-5 before going on to claim his maiden ranking triumph.
Oddly enough, Allen won the last four frames that day to prevail in a decider but it was Leicester’s Selby who did likewise only last month in Latvia to claim the Riga Open title in nail-biting fashion.
Impressively, though, that’s Allen’s only defeat in his last 17 matches and this occasion is set up nicely for some revenge on that solitary loss.
That said, contrasting fortunes in the last eight may prove a factor as Selby ran out a comfortable 5-0 winner over Fergal O’Brien while Allen was taken all the way by Welshman Michael White in a grueling, but high-quality, affair that boasted seven half centuries.
In truth, both clashes are difficult to predict but Ding’s developing dominance in China and the confidence Selby oozes as world champion could set up a grandstand finish to this year’s Shanghai Masters.