The last eight line-up for the 2015 Masters was completed on Wednesday with Mark Allen and Joe Perry coming through unscathed.
In a high-scoring affair, Allen held off a stern challenge from John Higgins to prevail in a tight 6-4 tussle before Perry won his first ever match in the tournament, on his seventh attempt, with a 6-3 upset of Ding Junhui.
The first two quarter-final ties take place today with the remaining pair being contested on Friday.
Perry will undoubtedly be regarded as the notable underdog but all eight must feel in with a chance of capturing the famous trophy in London on Sunday night.
It has been a good season for the 40 year-old Englishman, who narrowly missed out in a deciding frame thriller with close friend Neil Robertson in the final of the Wuxi Classic last summer.
That would have earned the player known as the ‘Gentleman’ his maiden ranking event success but I’m sure he’d happily swap that for a Masters crown on his CV.
Perry’s next encounter is tomorrow which should work in his favour as he has time to settle the nerves following his big triumph over a Ding, who continues to struggle in what has been a quiet campaign for the Chinese competitor.
It doesn’t get much, if any, easier for Perry, though, as he comes up against a Mark Allen who has been in imperious form for most of the season.
With four finals to his name, including victory in one of the European Tour series events, the Northern Irishman is brimming with confidence and will be desperate to bag his first major title.
Allen has been on a health kick of late, not the first snooker player to change their habits in recent years, and the 28 year-old will be hoping that the extra stamina acquired will help him translate final appearances into more tournament triumphs.
He came through a tough test against Higgins after losing the opening two frames to centuries from his illustrious opponent, and, if he performs to his ability, should have enough in the tank to see off Perry’s challenge.
Also tomorrow is a mouth-watering clash between Shaun Murphy and Stephen Maguire.
The duo has been embroiled in a fierce rivalry for more than a decade that has at times threatened to erupt over the edge.
Both came through hard last 16 ties against Mark Selby and Judd Trump respectively so should be feeling up having knocked out two of the pre-tournament favourites.
Murphy and Maguire have won three out of the opening five European Tour events of the campaign between them while the latter also reached the UK Championship semi-finals.
A flip of a coin that has deciding frame thriller written all over it.
Before all that comes the two bouts on Thursday, with the eagerly awaited Ronnie O’Sullivan encounter taking top billing.
The ‘Rocket’ generally does draw the most attention anyway but there will be a media frenzy associated with today’s battle with Marco Fu as the career centuries record looks set to be beaten.
The 39 year-old compiled runs of 100 and 116 in his 6-4 win over Ricky Walden in the first round to equal Stephen Hendry’s long-term record of 775, so needs only one more to surpass the legendary Scot.
Aside from that, O’Sullivan fans, of which there will be many in the packed Alexandra Palace auditorium, will hope that the subplot doesn’t serve as a distraction to the world no.3.
147 man Fu used to be one of the few players who had a good record in head-to-heads with O’Sullivan but he hasn’t beaten the defending champion since the 2009 Welsh Open.
Indeed, in their most recent meeting at the Champion of Champions, O’Sullivan thumped the Hong Kong native in a one-sided 6-0 whitewash.
Fu will probably put up a creditable challenge but it is hard to see O’Sullivan losing, regardless of the centuries bonanza, having won 27 out of his last 28 matches on British soil.
The evening match tonight is between world no.1 Neil Robertson and cancer hero Ali Carter.
Carter received a standing ovation before going on to easily overcome a very poor Barry Hawkins in the opening round while Robertson played superbly in taking the last three frames against Robert Milkins for a 6-4 conquering comeback.
One would suspect Robertson to have the edge having had more match practice throughout the season but Carter could be buoyed by his first big win since gaining the all-clear from lung cancer in December.
The majority of the crowd will be on his side too, so it likely that Australia’s Robertson will have a battle on his hands.
Robertson had his own centuries moment when he made his 100th in a single season at the Crucible last year but has been quiet since reaching the final of the Australian Open in July.
Having tasted success in the lucrative Masters already, back in 2012, Robertson will be hungry for further glory and arguably represents O’Sullivan’s main challenge in the tournament overall.
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