After eight sessions of snooker, the field of 32 in the World Grand Prix has been whittled down to the final four in Preston.
The world’s top seven ranked players, and Ronnie O’Sullivan, are notable in their absence but the line-up remains compelling in the mere fact that it’s so difficult to predict the likely champion.
Liang Wenbo and Barry Hawkins emerged from their respective quarter-final ties on Thursday and will contest the first semi-final later today under the unusual schedule devised for this tournament.
Normally, of course, both semi-finals would be held on Saturday, but a clash with host broadcaster ITV4’s horse racing coverage has resulted in there being no afternoon play on the penultimate day of the competition.
Liang and Hawkins both impressed en route to sealing their semi-final berths, continuing their fine form over the last few months.
The former is bidding for a second ranking title of the campaign after collecting his maiden trophy at the English Open back in October, while Hawkins is attempting to go one better than his runner-up spot in the Northern Ireland Open.
The duo has met on four occasions in the past, with the Englishman boasting the superior head-to-head record having tasted success in three out of their four meetings.
However, Liang did manage to secure his first victory in their latest encounter at the Scottish Open with a 4-3 triumph in Glasgow.
This battle will be played over the best of eleven frames, and 37 year-old Hawkins will be hoping to erase the memories of his last bout under that guise when he surrendered a 5-2 lead in defeat to Joe Perry at the same stage of the Masters.
The Chinese no.2 will have similarly ill feelings towards the format after squandering match ball black in his loss to Ronnie O’Sullivan at the same event in London.
Both will realise, though, that there is a huge opportunity for either to advance and add another piece of silverware to their collections.
In the second semi-final at the Guild Hall, to be played tomorrow evening, Hong Kong’s Marco Fu will play Ryan Day – the sole non top 16 player remaining in the draw.
Fu has been arguably the most in-form player over the last three months and is clearly benefiting from a new technique and a significantly increased pace around the table.
The 39 year-old endured a torrid start to the campaign but romped to victory in the Scottish Open, which came in the middle of tight semi-final defeats to O’Sullivan in the UK Championship and Masters.
Although the last four competitors this week are by no means the youngest quartet, Fu’s 4-2 quarter-final triumph over Mark King did end a remarkable stretch of 14 consecutive ranking events featuring a 40-something year-old in the last four.
Fu is potentially the favourite for glory on Sunday but he’ll have to overcome a challenger in Day who appears completely up for proceedings this week.
Having watched the likes of Liang, King, and especially Anthony Hamilton earn ranking event victories over the last few months, Day has perhaps reluctantly taken on the mantle as the best player to have never won a tournament of such elevated status.
This seems to have galvanised the 36 year-old with a first semi-final run of the season taking him ever closer to that long overdue title.
Unfortunately for Day, who has lost in three prior ranking event finals, embarking on a fourth showdown will prove difficult considering he has failed to overcome Fu in five earlier attempts – not counting the Championship League.
Yet, the Welshman must surely be aware that, with the marquee names all gone by the wayside, it could well be now or never for his career-defining moment.
A pair of intriguing contests then, with nobody really the wiser as to which two cueists will progress to Sunday’s final.