An interesting mix of experienced warhorses and up-and-coming talent remains in the hunt for glory in the Indian Open this weekend.
Friday will see the last 16 whittled down to the final four as the business end of proceedings heats up in Visakhapatnam.
Star top 16 competitors are littered throughout the draw, so there could still be a high-quality quartet of names featuring in the semi-finals despite the depleted field suggesting that the opposite was more probable at the outset of the week.
Still, with the format maintaining its length of best of seven frames right up until the final, it will be difficult to predict exactly how the next few rounds will ultimately materialise.
Defending champion Anthony McGill has safely navigated his initial tests and will meet Hossein Vafaei Ayouri for a quarter-final berth.
The talented Iranian, a multiple world champion at amateur level, could be a dark horse in this tournament and is building up valuable experience in the professional ranks after breaking into the top 64 in the world rankings for the first time that was spearheaded by a run to the last four of the China Open in April.
Also in the top quarter is Ireland’s Ken Doherty, who continues to thrive this season after his invitational tour card reprieve.
The Dubliner edged Sam Baird 4-3 on Thursday and his reward is another very winnable contest against China’s Zhang Anda.
The other section in the top half of the draw is loaded with three former ranking event winners with Shaun Murphy, Stuart Bingham, and Mark King fighting it out alongside 23 year-old Elliot Slessor.
While the latter is making his debut at this stage of a ranking competition, the other trio each knows what it takes to go on and capture that elusive silverware.
Slessor’s next challenge is the in-form Murphy, whose game shows little sign of letting up subsequent to his brace of final appearances in the last two events.
Elsewhere, the bottom segment has a further three proven champions with John Higgins, Mark Allen, and Ricky Walden still in contention.
Higgins remains the favourite for the title after just about navigating his first couple of rounds safely, but will face a stiff test next in the form of Michael Holt.
Holt is one of a bunch of players who are now regarded as among the best to have never lifted a ranking trophy, so will harbour hopes of capitalising on a slightly weaker field this time around.
Former International Championship runner-up David Gilbert is shaped from a similar mould, and the Englishman has advanced to this stage to meet a somewhat resurgent Allen.
Allen has struggled to secure positive results over the course of the last year or longer, but this kind of format suits him, highlighted by his strong record in the now defunct PTC series of best of seven events.
Walden, meanwhile, is making a welcome return from a persistent injury that forced his slide down the rankings and outside of the elite top 16.
The former runner-up in India will meet Xu Si in the third round with a potential tie against Allen or Gilbert to come after.
Finally, Liam Highfield and Akani Songsermsawd do battle in the only match of the eight that doesn’t boast a former ranking event winner.
A win for Songsermsawad would match his best display when he reached the quarter-finals in this tournament just over 12 months ago, while Highfield would be breaking new ground if he was to come out on top.
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