Snooker in September

English Open: Quarter-Final Preview

Ronnie O’Sullivan is the senior statesman as he heads a distinctly young English Open quarter-final line-up in Barnsley.

Ronnie O'Sullivan English Open (WS)
O’Sullivan came from 3-2 down to beat Higgins 4-3 in a high-scoring battle. Photo credit: World Snooker

There have been signs over the past year or so that a changing of the guard is potentially imminent, highlighted by several new ranking event champions and the emergence of many new young stars in the making.

Six twenty-something-year-olds feature in the last eight, three of whom having tasted ranking success already from their tenures on the tour.

The other three have been widely heralded as possible stars in the making and it’ll be interesting to see if they can make the next step toward the elite over the next couple of days.

Making up the octet is Neil Robertson, who has reached this late stage of a ranking event for the first time since the Players Championship at the tail end of the last campaign.

The Australian will face Anthony McGill for a semi-final berth, knowing that every victory is of paramount importance in his bid to be among the top 16 in the world rankings who will gain an invitation to the prestigious Masters in January.

In the 35 year-old’s favour is his record against McGill, with four wins from four previous meetings in tournaments carrying ranking points.

This will be their first clash over the slightly longer best of nine frames, with the format now increasing with each round that passes at the Metrodome.

O’Sullivan, meanwhile, at almost 42 represents easily the oldest player left in the draw and is almost twice the age of the youngest, Alexander Ursenbacher.

The “Rocket” was in imperious form as he schooled China’s Zhang Yong in the third round with a hat-trick of century breaks before coming from behind to deny old rival John Higgins in a last 16 decider.

The five-time world champion created plenty of headlines earlier in the week with shoegate, and was the centre of more attention again when a random fan broke through security at the end of his match-winning clearance against Zhang.

The woman duly circled the table before accepting O’Sullivan’s cue with an effort on the final black, which like her attempt at being funny was a seismic miss rather than a hit.

Whether or not some people found it all comical or not is really irrelevant because it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen, not only because it looked embarrassing on live television, but also because of the slack security that took forever to get rid of a potentially precarious situation.

O’Sullivan will meet Jack Lisowski for the first time on Friday after the 26 year-old reached the last eight of a ranking event for only the third time in his career.

Lisowski was once tipped as being one of the stars of the game but, despite boasting a rip-roaring attacking pedigree, has never been able to find the consistency to lift him into the higher echelons of the sport.

Yet, a pair of cracking triumphs against Mark Williams and Judd Trump on Thursday has put the world number 55 on the brink of a debut semi-final appearance.

In the bottom half of the draw, Paul Hunter Classic champion Michael White and  World Games gold medallist Kyren Wilson – aged just 26 and 25 respectively – represent the more experienced competitors of the remaining quartet.

Wilson took full advantage of world champion Mark Selby’s exit to Xiao Guodong in the last 32 by hammering the Chinese cueist courtesy of breaks of 109, 106, and 97.

The World Open runner-up will meet Hossein Vafaei following wins over Stuart Bingham and Andrew Higginson for the Iranian.

Vafaei reached the semi-finals of the China Open in April to break into the world’s top 64 for the first time but this is the first time that he has threatened again in a competition since.

Finally, White will entertain Ursenbacher with the 21 year-old Swiss rising star set to play a quarter-final bout for the first time in his fledgling career.

While players like Luca Brecel, Zhou Yuelong, and Yan Bingtao have arguably gained more attention, there has been a general growing sense around the snooker community that Ursenbacher could be a major contender in the upcoming campaigns.

Ursenbacher failed to do much during his first stint on the tour but has clearly worked hard in the interim and has been a new force since capturing the European Under-21 Championship at the outset of 2017.

White, the only player left in the draw who has tasted ranking success this season, has quietly gone about his business this week and produced a strong comeback to deny veteran James Wattana a return to the big-time.

Then, while it was only a year ago that commentators were hailing the incredible run of semi-finals that comprised players over the age of 40, this English Open has provided a rejuvenating outlook of the promising future for the sport.

That said, the only 40-something-year-old left in the field is undoubtedly the favourite to go on and emerge victorious, especially given the kind of form he has produced already in Barnsley.

Coverage continues on Eurosport and Quest TV.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)

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