Ding Junhui became the first player to book his place in the semi-finals of the Champion of Champions in Coventry on Monday.
The Chinese returned to a degree of form as he stuttered over the finishing line in a 4-2 victory over Dominic Dale before repeating the feat in a 6-5 thriller over Barry Hawkins – who had earlier knocked out struggling four-time world champion John Higgins.
In both encounters Ding had been three frames in front and seemingly in control of proceedings as he looked to bounce back from an unexpected qualifying round defeat at the International Championship.
However, while he managed to avoid being pegged back completely in his last 16 tie with Welshman Dale, Hawkins returned from a 4-1 deficit and perhaps would have been the marginal favourite the way the match was going when he forced the decider with a 112 century break.
But Ding, who compile a ton of his own earlier in the contest, managed to hold himself together and, helped with a run of 55, earned his last four berth.
The 27 year-old has until Saturday to fine tune his game as the remainder of the semi-finalists are determined over the coming days.
First up on Tuesday will be the mini-bracket played out between Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Stephen Maguire and Steve Davis.
World Seniors champion Davis, who dropped off the Main Tour for the first time in his illustrious career back in May, has been invited to compete and his reward is the challenge of reigning Crucible world champion Selby.
Selby, like Ding on Monday, will be desperate to put behind him the misery of a shock early exit at the International Championship when he too lost in the preliminary stages.
While on paper it is unlikely that Selby will again slip up given that his 57 year-old opponent has hardly played at all so far during this campaign, the short best of seven format in the opening round allows for anything to perhaps materialise.
Either way, it’s nice to see the ‘Nugget’ back in action and hopefully he will be able to make a decent account of himself whatever the outcome is.
The winner of that match will take on whoever triumphs in the Trump versus Maguire tie.
Given the latter’s incredible inconsistency, one would have to label Australian Open champion Trump as the heavy favourite for this one.