So the Crucible curse continues.
Everybody must surely already be aware of the reality that defending champion Mark Selby’s reign ended on Friday at the hands of newcomer Anthony McGill.
The debutant played superbly well to dethrone Selby and continue his own aspirations of joining the exclusive winners club in Sheffield.
Talk of the ‘Curse of the Crucible’, where no first-time champion has returned the following season to regain the title, has been aplenty.
While it is perhaps a little strange that the number has now increased to 19 players who have tried and failed, in truth it simply demonstrates how difficult it is to win at the fabled venue at all.
Indeed, only three players have ever made a successful defence and they just happen to be a trio of legends in the game – Davis, Hendry and O’Sullivan.
Selby can at least take some solace in the fact that he exited at the hands of an up-and-coming talent who announced himself with a terrific performance on centre stage.
24 year-old McGill was amazing from start to finish, boasting a wonderful temperament throughout that was akin to that of his hero John Higgins – who he watched win the World Championship as a seven year-old in 1998.
Many have McGill already labeled as a player who has tactical nouse and an ability to let the bad times roll with the good – we have now become accustomed to his sometimes unnerving smile during the tense exchanges of a frame – but he proved his repertoire includes powerful scoring on Friday.
Indeed, in both his final qualifying match and his last 32 encounter here, McGill displayed true character by knocking in a century in the last frame having been pegged back to a decider in each.
While never forced to play the 25th frame against Selby, he again composed himself well when the pressure was mounting to compile the 82 break that knocked the world no.1 out with a 13-9 scoreline.
Who’s to say how far McGill can go, but already he has convinced the masses that he’s the real deal who may turn out to be a regular on our main screens in the future.
Of course, caution must be exercised as it doesn’t always work out this way – similar suggestions were made when Welshman Jamie Jones made his quarter-final journey in 2012.
For now, though, McGill can revel in the success of here and now, as well as the prospect of a single-table semi-final set-up if he can manage to overcome one further obstacle in either Shaun Murphy or Joe Perry.
Three more last 16 ties will reach their conclusion on Saturday.
The highly anticipated Ding Junhui versus John Higgins affair hasn’t disappointed so far with the Chinese Sensation taking a narrow 9-7 advantage into the final session.
Ding trailed Higgins 5-1 early on but won four on the spin either side of both opening sessions to level the scores up.
Higgins stopped the rot to go 7-5 clear but Ding again claimed four consecutive frames to boast a healthy overnight cushion.
Worryingly for four-time champion HIggins is the prowess of his opponent’s scoring, which really came to the fore as the day developed.
Elsewhere, Stuart Bingham scored a brace of centuries en route to establishing an 11-5 lead over Graeme Dott as he bids to reach the last eight for just the second time in his career.
Only twice has a player reversed an 11-5 deficit following the second session – in 2007 when Murphy came back against Matthew Stevens, and four years later when Neil Robertson managed the trick against Martin Gould.
Amazingly, it was discussed on Twitter yesterday how often had a 10-6 lead been overturned and somewhat surprisingly the number seems to be just six, with the last coming ten years ago when Peter Ebdon famously ground down Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Finally, in a high-scoring duel between Mark Allen and Barry Hawkins, the Northern Irishman holds a 5-3 lead over the 2013 runner-up.
They all finish on Saturday while the O’Sullivan-Stevens tie, along with the Robertson-Carter bout, also get under way.
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