In less than a week we’ll know who will be crowned as the 2015 world snooker champion.
Eight competitors remain in this marathon championship as the quarter-finals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
An impressive line-up has been assembled with three former world champions and two further ex runners-up left in the draw.
Add to that an 11-time ranking event winner and a debutant qualifier who is taking the tournament by storm and there’s plenty to look forward to.
That, of course, is not to forget Stuart Bingham.
The Englishman has arguably the most difficult task of anyone as he is the next challenger to favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan’s tilt at a sixth title.
This pair has had a habit of running into each in big tournaments over the last number of seasons – twice in Sheffield, three times in the UK Championship along with additional meetings in the invitational Champion of Champions and World Grand Prix.
‘Ballrun’ enjoyed the upper hand in two of those UK contests but the rest have all been largely dominated by the five-time Crucible champ.
The duo met in this round two years ago, with the ‘Rocket’ racing to a comfortable 13-4 victory.
That year, O’Sullivan almost appeared serene as he coasted to his latest world triumph, but his temperament has been a little more eruptive in recent months.
Already in this championship he has been warned for playing shoeless and for making a lewd gesture.
That said, his snooker has been solid enough overall and the further he goes in an event the more dangerous he inevitably becomes.
It will be interesting to see how he reacts when he is properly tested, which will undoubtedly happen at some stage over the course of the next seven days.
That examination might not occur against Bingham, but would likely transpire in a semi-final clash with either Judd Trump or Ding Junhui.
This quarter-final has the makings of an absolute classic, just as their previous Crucible meeting was back in the 2011 semi-final.
Trump edged that contest 17-15 in what is widely regarded as one of the best last four encounters ever in the World Championship.
Both players have reason to believe they can go further in 2015.
Trump has had the much better season, winning a couple of tournaments and featuring more regularly at the business end of competitions, but Ding will be buoyed by his run to the China Open last four as well as confidence-boosting victories over Mark Davis and John Higgins last week.
Indeed, the majority of his performance against the four-time champion Scot suggested that the Ding of the 2013/14 campaign is nearing his return.
Whether it’s in time to deny a Trump who many believe is going to land his maiden world trophy next Monday is difficult to predict, but by all accounts this clash ought to be close.
In the top half of the draw the 2005 and 2010 champions are on a collision course to meet in the semi-finals.
Anthony McGill and Barry Hawkins will certainly have a lot to say about that but Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson have both excelled so far in their respective bids for a second success in the City of Steel.
Australia’s Robertson, in particular, looks to be composed and fully determined to break away from the band of single-time winners that also includes Murphy.
The 33 year-old was my initial pick to win this year and his displays so far have given me little reason to alter that prediction.
What most of us will be hoping for is for more closely contested encounters.
The second round proved to be a little disappointing with Hawkins’ 13-11 victory over Mark Allen the only tie that offered any real drama.
However, with seven out of the world’s top 10 in the world rankings left, the remainder of this year’s World Championship is set up nicely for a stirring finale.
Quarter-Final Draw (Predicted winners in red)
Anthony McGill vs Shaun Murphy
Barry Hawkins vs Neil Robertson
Ding Junhui vs Judd Trump
Stuart Bingham vs Ronnie O’Sullivan
Categories: Snooker News