English Open quarter-final

Masters: Quarter-Final Preview

16 has become eight as the Dafabet Masters heads towards an eagerly anticipated weekend conclusion at the Alexandra Palace.

O'Sullivan Robertson COC 13
Robertson also beat O’Sullivan in the 2010 World Open final.

In an entertaining first round which produced four ties that went the distance and a centuries count which amassed 17, the competitors remaining now set their sights on one of the four semi-final berths available in London.

As it was at the start of the tournament, a case can still be made for each of the players remaining walking away with the title in a few days time.

All four quarter-final encounters, two of which will be played on Thursday before the other pair is contested on Friday, are worthy of finals themselves.

However, there is undoubtedly one fixture which is the standout pick of the lot – Ronnie O’Sullivan against Neil Robertson.

The clash between the Englishman and the Australian is almost as box-office as it comes and, the fact that it is taking place on O’Sullivan’s doorstep with a raucous crowd inevitably in favour of the ‘Rocket’, provides an Ashes-style backdrop.

O’Sullivan, as one would expect, has the superior head-to-head record of the duo’s previous meetings, including in their last two high-profile affairs.

Indeed, the 41 year-old has won an incredible 13 frames in a row against Robertson, having come from 5-2 down to win 9-5 in the Welsh Open final last year before a 6-0 drubbing in the semi-finals of the European Masters last October.

Robertson, though, has enjoyed some success over the six-time Masters champion, perhaps most notably in 2015 when he romped to a 6-1 last four victory in this very event.

The form book over the last few months would suggest that O’Sullivan would be the heavy favourite again but contrasting victories in their opening bouts this week could counter that argument.

O’Sullivan was lucky to labour to a deciding frame victory over Liang Wenbo while Robertson appeared back to somewhere near his clinical best in defeat of Ali Carter.

In a big occasion like this, a lot may come down to the initial exchanges and who can best handle the electric energy that is expected from the packed crowd.

Later on Thursday, Mark Allen and Marco Fu face one another after each also emerging with 6-5 successes in the last 16.

After victory in Scotland, Fu was presented the Stephen Hendry trophy by the man himself.

Both men are chasing a maiden Masters title, which would also mark glory in a first Triple Crown event to boot.

Fu fought back fantastically well to deny Judd Trump in a high-scoring classic and appears like a new player since his Scottish Open triumph before Christmas.

Allen, meanwhile, will be hoping to iron out the inconsistencies that have dogged his game and, despite Fu’s form, the Northern Irishman will surely see this as a big opportunity to progress further.

To add a little spice, there has previously been a bit of needle between the pair with Allen suggesting in 2012 that Fu had deliberately cheated in the past.

They have not met on many occasions since then – in fact their last encounter was almost four years ago – but Hong Kong’s Fu has won their only other match in the Masters when he prevailed 6-4 in 2011 en route to reaching the final.

Meanwhile, on Friday world no.1 Mark Selby meets Barry Hawkins while 2011 champion Ding Junhui and Joe Perry do battle.

The ‘Selby Slam’ lives on for another round at least after the world and UK champion narrowly squeezed past a gritty Mark Williams in the first round on Wednesday.

In a thrilling contest that was littered with both sizable contribution and glaring mistakes, Selby took advantage of a cruel piece of misfortune for his opponent in the decider when Williams suffered a horrendous kick that scuppered his match-winning opportunity.

Hawkins represents the Leicester man’s upcoming hurdle with the runner-up from 12 months ago comfortably dispatching of Shaun Murphy 6-1 in the last match to be completed yesterday.

There was no question that Selby was definitely feeling the pressure of the expectations surrounding his quest to complete the Triple Crown of world, UK and Masters titles, but with one win under his belt it is conceivable to now see the ‘Jester’ grow into the event with more confidence.

Selby and Hawkins have a relatively even record against each other and the latter has twice prevailed when they have clashed at the World Championship.

However, Selby has got the better of the ‘Hawk’ in their last three matches and will of course begin as the heavy favourite given his general dominance over the last nine or ten months.

For Ding, the Chinese no.1 finally ended his dreadful drought in the Masters when he won his first match since his title success six years ago on Sunday.

Perry is possibly the obvious outside bet of all the competitors left in the draw but his 6-1 hammering of Stuart Bingham proved that he is capable of producing.

The 42 year-old accounted for Ding in this tournament two years ago but the latter has won nine out of their 13 ties – not including the Championship League – so will surely feel confident enough of a safe passage into the semi-finals.

As will be the case all week, the coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport.

Click here to view the draw.

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