The semi-finals of the 2015 Betfred World Snooker Championship will be an all-English affair.
A quartet of the top 10 ranked players make up the last four with Judd Trump, Stuart Bingham, Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins all still in the hunt for world glory.
Trump and Murphy’s appearance at this stage of proceedings will come as a surprise to nobody, but the same cannot really be said of the other pair.
Hawkins endured a terrible 2014/15 campaign but overcame Neil Robertson in a thrilling decider on Wednesday night to reach the semi-final in Sheffield for a third straight year.
Bingham, meanwhile, was not expected to orchestrate the type of performance he managed in ousting five-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 13-9.
‘Ballrun’ had lost a succession of high-profile matches to the 39 year-old, including a collapse at the UK Championship in December that Ronnie went on to win, but cued brilliantly as he took the final five frames with a flurry of breaks to deny the pre-tournament favourite.
With both O’Sullivan and Robertson, who was my own tip for the title, now out, the favourite’s tag for me and I’m sure most people must now be on Judd Trump’s shoulders.
The 25 year-old was imperious at times in his 13-4 rout of Ding Junhui, a match that many had hoped would emulate their last four contest of four years ago that provided so much drama and almost went the distance.
Trump’s scoring, though, was devastating and his ability to match that with telling safety when necessary was an ominous sign for the rest of his remaining competition.
Against Bingham, he will be an overwhelming favourite to reach his second final, four years after his maiden appearance when he was narrowly defeated by John Higgins amid a frenzied atmosphere at the Crucible.
Shanghai Masters champion Bingham deserves plenty of plaudits for his achievement of reaching the single table set-up for the first time in his career at the ripe age of 38.
World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn yesterday held a press conference detailing the success of his first five-year plan for the sport under his management.
Bingham, arguably, has been the biggest beneficiary of Hearn’s leadership as he has openly embraced the influx of tournaments onto the annual calendar, rarely moaning as he goes about doing the profession that he loves.
Make no mistake, Bingham will be seeking to go at least one step further but it is difficult to see how he can live with Trump’s current form.
The former world no.1 has managed to find a cute balance between his natural attacking ability and a new-found appreciation for the tactical nuances of the game.
As he rightly said after his thrashing of Ding, “if I play like that again, I wont get beat.”
The other semi-final sees Hawkins take on 2005 champion Shaun Murphy – the last remaining former winner left in the draw.
Again, there is a pretty clear favourite in this tie as well with the majority of people probably airing on the side of a Murphy triumph.
This encounter ought to be closer, though, especially given the pedigree that Hawkins has built up over the last couple of years in the City of Steel.
The 36 year-old was denied twice in the last two editions by Ronnie O’Sullivan but, now that the ‘Rocket’ is out, Hawkins might suddenly be fancying his chances.
The two-time ranking event winner has grown in confidence as the tournament has progressed and played superbly at crunch time in both of his tight tussles with Mark Allen and Robertson in the last two rounds.
Murphy ended the impressive run of Scotland’s Anthony McGill, who continued to fight gallantly, still smiling, until his ultimate demise.
The ‘Magician’ has the experience at this stage, on top of a pretty damning head-to-head record with Hawkins that has seen him lost only once to his fellow Englishman in ranking events.
All signs point towards a Trump versus Murphy final then, which could materialise as a barnstorming battle, but this tournament hasn’t exactly gone to script so far so there’s no guarantee that it will start to now.
Still, Trump and Murphy do have the capability of reaching their second and third respective finals of their careers and, with the standard the duo has produced this week, I expect their names to feature in May Bank Holiday’s eagerly awaited showpiece.
Semi-Final Draw (Predicted winner in red)
Shaun Murphy vs Barry Hawkins
Judd Trump vs Stuart Bingham