It’s semi-finals day in the 2015 Masters and what a formidable final four we have at the Alexandra Palace in London.
Defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, world no.1 Neil Robertson and two of the most in-form players of the campaign in Shaun Murphy and Mark Allen complete what is a stellar cast as this year’s edition of the prestigious event approaches its exciting conclusion.
While Allen and Murphy’s clash in the evening session represents an encounter to look forward, the clash of the round undoubtedly lies in the duel between five-time winner O’Sullivan and Australia’s Robertson.
The latter was in absolutely scintillating form as he dismantled the challenge of Ali Carter in the quarter-finals with a devastating 6-1 drubbing of the returning Englishman.
Robertson, Masters champion in 2012, boasted a pot success rate of 98% as he made breaks of 128, 127, 98, 84 and 57 in an almost perfect display of scoring and safety nouse.
Having missed out on opportunities to take on O’Sullivan in both the Champion of Champions and UK Championship in recent months, both of which O’Sullivan went on to capture glory in, Robertson now has his high-profile crack at the ‘Rocket’.
The 32 year-old’s biggest victory over O’Sullivan came in the 2010 World Open final but success over the world no.3 on what is effectively home turf will prove to be another challenge completely.
In 20 previous masterful years in the competition, O’Sullivan has reached the last four on ten occasions and has emerged triumphant every single time.
What will worry Robertson fans even further is his opponent’s unbelievable record on British soil over the last 12 months.
Since his triumph at Ally Pally in 2014, O’Sullivan has won 28 out of 29 matches (excluding qualifying rounds) in England and Wales, with his sole defeat coming in the World Championship final to Mark Selby.
O’Sullivan hasn’t been playing at his dominant best this week so far but his general aura, consistency and strong temperament has been enough to overwhelm his opposition.
It is unlikely that Robertson will be allowed to be bullied as easily as Marco Fu was in the last eight but he will have to reproduce his outstanding A-game from the previous round to stand a chance of stopping the Chigwell Cueist.
This is a clash of the century men – Robertson having compiled the ton of tons last season with O’Sullivan surpassing Stephen Hendry’s all-time record earlier this week – so their battle promises to be an attacking assault on the baize.
Following this potential classic is a golden opportunity for both Murphy and Allen to reach a major final of the their own.
Murphy had pinpointed the Masters as a specific tournament he wanted to excel in this season as he strives to join the elite band of competitors to have completed the career Triple Crown.
The 2005 world champion and 2008 UK champion came close in 2012 but lost out to Robertson in the final.
The 32 year-old stated last week that he was giving himself until 2025 to become Masters champion, which seemed tame at the time but perhaps was just a ploy to take some of the pressure off his shoulders in the earlier rounds.
Murphy played well to oust both world champion Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire to reach this stage and has a favourable head-to-head record against Northern Ireland’s Allen.
The pair has won three out of the five European Tour events of this season between them so their confidence ought to be at a premium level.
However, Allen, whose only previous appearance in a major final came at the 2011 UK Championship, was curiously poor in his scrappy 6-4 victory over Joe Perry on Friday.
Having lost in three finals already since the summer, the 28 year-old will be desperate to add more silverware to his trophy cabinet in a bid to join the top crop of four or five players on the circuit.
Both ties are tough to call and could easily go either way, but O’Sullivan’s dominant sequence of wins coupled with Murphy’s determination could prove to be the determining factor in who reaches Sunday’s showdown.
What is for certain is that the players will be treated to an electric atmosphere, as has been the case all week, with a sold-out 1700-strong enthusiastic audience being treated to Saturday at the Masters – one of the big days on the sporting calendar.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Neil Robertson (1pm GMT)
Mark Allen vs Shaun Murphy (7pm GMT)