Eight players remain in the hunt for the 2016 UK Championship in York this week.
The favourite is still undoubtedly Ronnie O’Sullivan but there are plenty of other names left in the draw well capable of preventing the ‘Rocket’ from capturing a sixth UK crown.
Four of the other seven contenders have all got their hands on the trophy at least once in their careers, while another has been agonisingly denied the same feat in a deciding frame final.
O’Sullivan has lost only three frames in his opening four encounters but he will likely face a much stiffer test when he meets Mark Williams in the quarter-finals.
The Welshman narrowly escaped what would have been a big shock in his fourth round clash with Liam Highfield when he won the last two frames for a 6-5 victory over the improving 26 year-old.
Williams doesn’t boast a strong head-to-head record against O’Sullivan – in fact, there were 12 years between victories in ranking events until his 6-5 success in the 2014 International Championship.
Funnily enough, that came at the quarter-final stage as well so the 1999 and 2002 champion will be seeking a repeat if he is to upset the odds at the Barbican.
A lot will depend on O’Sullivan’s game, for if he continues to perform like he has been in this event it is hard to see anybody gaining the upper hand against him.
That he hasn’t been challenged properly is significant, though, and it will be interesting to see how he reacts should it come down to the nitty gritty in a closely fought tie.
Whoever emerges victorious will have the right to play either Marco Fu or Jamie Jones for a berth in the final.
Fu is so inconsistent that it is difficult to properly predict what level is he going to play at, but the Hong Kong cueist does seem to play pretty well at the majors of late.
Against Jones, the 2008 runner-up will be the heavy favourite given his experience but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the young Welshman give it a good go.
Jones is featuring in just his fourth ranking event quarter-final after easily outscoring an out-of-sorts David Gilbert on Thursday in the last 16.
Fu and Jones have met on four occasions, oddly three of those coming in the China Open, while the stats lie even with two wins apiece.
The bottom half of the draw is arguably more interesting and, while O’Sullivan is widely tipped to be the finalist from the top bracket, this side is more evenly matched.
The clash of the round has world no.1 Mark Selby up against the man in form, John Higgins.
Despite the fact that it was the first day of December, Higgins maintained the level of play which saw him enjoy a bumper November by collecting two lucrative invitational tournaments as well as knocking in a 147 break along the way.
The Scot beat Mark Allen 6-3 to set up a mouthwatering prospect with Selby, who is seeking a second UK title.
Selby holds the advantage in their previous meetings against one another but the duo has never met before in this tournament.
That said, Selby and Higgins have met six times in the other two Triple Crown events – the World Championship and Masters – with three victories each.
This, of course, includes the big one when Higgins ousted a then emerging Selby 18-13 in the final of the Worlds at the Crucible.
Both competitors have been in great fettle this season and, with their ability to mix heaving scoring with battling skills, it is probable that this match will go very near the distance.
Finally, 2008 winner Shaun Murphy has the resurgent Luca Brecel in his way of a place in the semi-final.
The latter had struggled after embarking on his maiden run to a ranking event final at the German Masters in February but appears back to somewhere near his best.
A 6-3 triumph over Stephen Maguire has helped him to a first UK Championship quarter-final appearance since 2012, when he burst onto the scene as an exciting 17 year-old.
Strangely, Brecel has an opportunity for revenge for his defeat in that tournament because it was indeed Murphy who ended the Belgian’s run in a cruel thriller which went all the way, 6-5.
As you would expect, Murphy possesses the superior head-to-head record but only just, with Brecel victorious in their last two outings.
That includes two weeks ago in Belfast when Brecel whitewashed the Englishman in the Northern Ireland Open with runs of 117, a brace of 83 breaks and a 55.
This highlights Brecel’s pedigree when in among the balls and, considering it is both of their weaknesses, this game will arguably be more about whose tactical awareness can be more astute.
All four matches will be played on Friday with coverage live on the BBC and Eurosport.
Categories: Snooker News