The UK Championship has reached the quarter-final stage with just eight competitors left vying for the title in York.
The two halves of the draw could not look much more different, with the bottom section boasting three stars of the sport and former UK champions.
In contrast, the top half is very open and there is a great chance for all four players to continue their run to at least a final appearance in the second biggest ranking event.
Hong Kong’s Marco Fu possesses the most pedigree, the only ranking event winner and the only member of the top 16 left in that side.
He’ll be the obvious favourite to go on and reach what would be a second final in the tournament following his runner-up spot to Shaun Murphy in 2008.
Fu, like last year, gained some revenge on Murphy over that defeat in a decider seven years ago when he ousted the Englishman in the last 16.
The 37 year-old is on the back of a good run that started with him collecting silverware in the General Cup in November.
Fu has for almost two decades been in or around the top echelons of the sport but has never really been consistent enough to fulfill what many believed would be a greater potential.
It’s never too late, though, and one only has to look at Stuart Bingham’s World Championship success at 38 for proof of that.
Fu might never get a better chance again to taste glory in one of the three traditional majors, and he’ll be desperate to continue his quest when he takes on Liang Wenbo for a semi-final berth.
Liang has fought his way through the rounds superbly, coming from 4-1 down to Judd Trump and 5-3 down to Tom Ford in each of the last two rounds.
The 28 year-old evidently has a good temperament, as does Fu, so this could be as much about their battle of wits as it is their duel on the table.
Liang’s another who perhaps hasn’t achieved as much in the game so far as people initially predicted, but again this represents a big chance for the Chinese.
The other tie in the top half sees Martin Gould take on complete surprise package David Grace.
Gould is continuing his strong season after reaching the final of the Australian Open back in the summer and will be confident of a last four place when he takes on Grace, ranked 81st in the world.
The latter has performed really well to get to this stage and nobody can take anything away from him as he has beaten the players who have been put in front of him.
However, he has benefited from a mixture of a favourable draw and distinctly poor play from his opposition, so any considerable challenge could be his undoing.
One would expect Gould to advance but it obviously isn’t written in stone.
The bottom bracket features a few more names that you’d expect to still be in contention at this stage of proceedings.
Neil Robertson and John Higgins clash in a mouthwatering quarter-final encounter that is really impossible to call.
Both cueists have been in form this season, with Australia’s Robertson winning the Champion of Champions and three-time UK champ Higgins in search of a fourth ranking title in 2015.
Robertson’s performance in ousting Stephen Maguire on Thursday was almost flawless, but he’ll be aware of his need to replicate that against another Scot today.
If the match is a scoring struggle then you’d have to favour the ‘Thunder from Down Under’, whereas if it becomes a tactical brawl then Higgins moves to odds on.
A mixture of the two styles and you’ll probably get to enjoy a classic.
Finally, 2012 champion Mark Selby is challenged by one of the most improved players on the circuit in Matthew Selt.
Selt’s ability to grind out results has been his signature in the last couple of seasons and the reason why he has rocketed up the rankings.
However, unfortunately for the 30 year-old his next obstacle is someone who has practiced the art of brinkmanship so well that he has become a Triple Crown winner and world no.1.
This is arguably Selt’s biggest ever match so he’s bound to be feeling the pressure, and if he doesn’t get off to a decent start you’d fear he might be in for a bit of a lesson.
Who do you think will reach the semi-finals? Comment below.
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