Ding Junhui looked to be approaching somewhere near his best as he whitewashed Michael White in the Players Championship on Thursday.
The Chinese eleven-time ranking event winner has struggled for much of the last two seasons, a dip in form that has seen his ranking plummet from the world no.1 position to just inside the top 16.
Provisionally, Ding’s status within the elite bracket has been under peril for a couple of months but the 28 year-old has regained some of his former confidence recently to move back into contention in tournaments.
After reaching the quarter-finals of the Welsh Open, Ding subsequently made a last four appearance in the World Grand Prix.
By reaching the last eight again at Event City, Ding has leapfrogged countryman Liang Wenbo into 16th place in the projected standings – where automatic qualification for the World Championship can be secured.
Against White, Ding compiled a superb event-high 143 in the opening frame before runs of 62 and 80 sealed a comfortable victory and it feels like a trophy may just be around the corner.
What will potentially help Ding’s cause, for this event at least, is the fact that Ali Carter dispensed of Judd Trump in the bottom half of the draw with an excellent 4-1 victory.
Despite losing the first frame, Carter cued beautifully with breaks of 112, 72 and 57 proving he can still mix it with the big boys.
Indeed, even though the Paul Hunter Classic champion is way down the rankings at this point, victory in Manchester this week would see him enter the conversation for those critical Crucible automatic spots.
Carter will face Ricky Walden for a semi-final berth, the latter finally producing following a barren spell as he edged Marco Fu 4-2.
Ding meets Barry Hawkins after the ‘Hawk’ came from 3-2 down to pip Robert Milkins in a decider.
In the top half of the draw, Shaun Murphy remains on course for consecutive ranking event titles after another dominant display – this time against Dominic Dale.
The Llandudno winner reeled in runs of 103, 93, 84 and 78 to pulverise his opponent 4-1.
Murphy’s next challenger is Ben Woollaston, who ended super sub Matthew Selt’s tournament with a 4-2 victory.
Meanwhile, Mark Allen earned a hard-fought 4-2 triumph over Mark King, sealing it with a nice 119 century in the last frame.
The Northern Irishman will play Mike Dunn next after the 44 year-old shocked Ryan Day by the same scoreline.
The quarter-finals all take place on Friday and will each be televised – two in the afternoon from 1pm and a further two in the evening from 7pm.
It will be interesting to see if attendances improve as the tournament moves into the weekend as, so far, ticket sales at Event City have been abysmal.
The word is that the venue is difficult to get to, which begs the question as to why it was chosen in the first place.
With so many other venues and so many other countries crying out for a tournament, it’s an incredible waste to be staging a high-profile competition like this, which is broadcast live across Europe, in a half-empty arena.