It’s come down to the final four in the Dafabet Masters at the Alexandra Palace in London.
The line-up is certainly not what would have been predicted at the outset of the week, but neither does it come necessarily as a major surprise.
When it was said that a case could be made for any of the 16 invitees being able to emerge with the title, it wasn’t a feathery statement intended to falsely promote the prestigious event – it was fact, and remains so.
This was perfectly underlined by the two quarter-finals on Friday in which Barry Hawkins and Joe Perry stunned Mark Selby and Ding Junhui respectively.
For Selby, it marked the end of the road for the 33 year-old’s quest to capture all three Triple Crown events in one year.
The ‘Jester’ wasn’t at his best but the truth is that Hawkins was simply much better and thoroughly deserved to progress to a second successive semi-final at Ally Pally.
Perry will be experiencing such a feeling for the first time in his long career after a crushing 6-1 victory over Ding which included a wonderful 127 break in the last frame to see off his more illustrious opponent.
It represents a remarkable opportunity for both Hawkins and Perry, who are evenly matched in terms of pedigree and standard, to go one step closer to a maiden major success.
The ‘Hawk’, of course, went all the way to the final 12 months ago before he was humiliated in a 10-1 defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan.
A possibility of a rematch remains on the cards, with the defending champion still standing on the other side of the draw and set to face the in-from Marco Fu.
Somewhat strangely, Hawkins and Perry’s paths haven’t crossed as often as one would maybe expect considering how long both cueists have excelled on the Main Tour.
Outside of the Championship League, Perry holds the advantage from their previous meetings with six wins out of ten encounters – albeit Hawkins did prevail in their only other Masters clash during last year’s edition.
Experience on the big stage would suggest that Kent’s Hawkins would have the edge but Perry, who at 42 is the oldest player in the competition, has suddenly come into good form and has dropped only a couple of frames in his two triumphs so far.
Taking place first on Saturday will be the intriguing tie between O’Sullivan and Fu.
The latter has maintained a run of form which began back in York during the UK Championship when, ironically, he was narrowly beaten in a last four decider by O’Sullivan in a game he probably ought to have won.
Fu didn’t let that disappointment affect him, though, and duly produced arguably the snooker of his career in romping to Scottish Open glory before Christmas.
Against O’Sullivan he will remain the underdog with most punters but, in reality, the 2011 runner-up is producing the much more clinical snooker of the pair at present.
The ‘Rocket’ hasn’t appeared particularly sharp despite already recording a brace of victories over Liang Wenbo and Neil Robertson.
That said, there is the potential for the 41 year-old to turn on the style at any moment, while featuring in the last four again, coupled with the fact that he is now the obvious favourite to lift the Masters trophy for what would be a record seventh time, could focus his intentions of reigning in the capital for another year.
Fu used to be one of the few players who boasted a healthy head-to-head record against O’Sullivan but that has long since passed.
The Hong Konger has failed to get one over the five-time world champion since the 2009 Welsh Open.
It will be interesting to see how Fu handles the pressure if the winning line is in sight, particularly after missing a straightforward green at the Barbican last month which would have sent him into that UK final at the expense of O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan might not be playing at his best but he will also have a partisan crowd on his side and an almost perfect semi-final record of 11 victories from a prior 12 appearances at this stage.
However, if Fu can prolong his stretch of current form and overcome O’Sullivan, it would subsequently represent a huge opportunity for the 39 year-old to claim what would arguably be a long overdue major title.
Coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport.
Categories: Snooker News