Mark Williams and Kyren Wilson Upset the Favourites

Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins both exited the Northern Ireland Open in the fourth round in Belfast on Thursday.

Mark Williams MastersThe pair, who played each other in a wonderful Champion of Champions final last Sunday, had been expected to meet once more in the quarter-finals at the Titanic Exhibition Centre.

But each was dispatched before either could even get to that stage as the draw continued to be broken wide open on the fourth day of action in County Antrim.

For Higgins, his magnificent run of form which saw him capture successive lucrative invitational tournaments and also knock in a 147 maximum break on Wednesday, came to an abrupt end in a 4-1 defeat to old foe Mark Williams.

Williams had previously stated this week that he was beginning to fancy his chances of claiming a long-awaited title again, in stark contrast to his usual opinion in recent times that his best days were well and truly behind him.

Perhaps the Welshman took inspiration from his fellow 41 year-old’s recent success, but Williams certainly didn’t afford Higgins too much respect as a brace of 67 breaks helped him into the last eight.

On Friday, Williams will take on Kyren Wilson after an incredible victory for the 24 year-old over Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Through a flurry of fantastic long pots, Wilson opened up a 3-0 lead only to watch in awe as the ‘Rocket’ reeled off a hat-trick of tons to force a decider.

Wilson, though, underlined the pedigree that saw him land the Shanghai Masters crown in 2015 with a pretty nerveless 70 in the last frame to seal a famous triumph.

The meeting between Williams and Wilson will be their first in professional competition, so it’ll be intriguing to see how that one will go particularly after the latter’s debut victory over O’Sullivan.

Meanwhile, local hero Mark Allen just about maintained his hopes of a triumph on home turf after squeaking past Gary Wilson 4-3.

Allen struggled at the outset of the clash, going 2-0 down in an unusually flat atmosphere, but the crowd came to life as the 30 year-old launched his comeback.

After a gruelling three-hour affair, Allen finally got over the winning post and is now the highest ranked player left – but he’ll have to improve if he’s to land the inaugural Alex Higgins trophy on Sunday.

Anthony Hamilton will be the next challenge for Allen after the ‘Sheriff’ potted his way to another thrilling 4-3 triumph, this time over 16 year-old Yan Bingtao.

Young Yan had appeared set to reach a maiden quarter-final but agonisingly lost the sixth frame on the black before Hamilton, who beat Ken Doherty in a final frame shoot-out after 1am last night, held himself together to advance.

Hamilton, now 45, is widely regarded as one of the best players to have never won a ranking event and thoughts must now be turning to him rectifying that unwanted title with just three more victories standing in his way.

Elsewhere on a busy day in which the competitors played through two rounds, Barry Hawkins and Michael White booked a clash against each other after each continued their relatively under the radar runs.

Hawkins whitewashed Fraser Patrick and Jack Liswoski while Wales’ White followed up an excellent 4-1 defeat of Luca Brecel by beating countryman Dominic Dale.

Indeed, Hawkins has lost only one frame in his opening four encounters and must be a man to look out for considering none of the world’s top eight ranked players remain in the competition.

The Englishman has a far superior head-to-head record against White, boasting five wins in six contests, but the latter is showing signs of a return to the kind of performances which granted him his maiden ranking event success at the 2015 Indian Open.

In the top quarter of the draw there’s a brilliant opportunity for either Mark King or Hossein Vafaei Ayouri to reach an important semi-final.

King, the 2004 Irish Masters runner-up in Dublin, hammered Fergal O’Brien before a hard-fought 4-2 victory over Norway’s Kurt Maflin.

The 42 year-old will face Iranian hotshot Vafaei, who has a keen following in Ireland after spending some time practicing out of the Royal Navan snooker club in Meath.

The 22 year-old struggled for a long period to gain his visa to play in the UK but clearly has immense talent having tasted glory in the World Amateur Championships at both senior and Under-21 level.

Vafaei duly took advantage of a favourable draw by ousting Sanderson Lam and Scott Donaldson to embark on a first ranking event quarter-final run.

In the last eight, the format increases to the best of nine frames with three of the four ties set for the main television table.

Play begins at 12pm on Friday with coverage again on Eurosport throughout and Quest TV during the afternoon.

Click here to view the draw.

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