Four remain in the hunt for the English Open title as the first Home Nations event of the season reaches the business end of proceedings in Barnsley.
An interesting quartet is left battling it out for glory at the Metrodom, with one proven star of the sport attempting to hold on to his mantle and a swarm of young pretenders rally to derail his throne.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is of course the heavy favourite but will still face stiff competition if he’s to capture a first ranking event crown in more than a year and a half.
The “Rocket” used his experience to overcome Jack Lisowski in the quarter-finals and, aside from a tricky tie with old foe John Higgins at the previous hurdle, O’Sullivan has rarely looked properly troubled so far.
Many already have his name etched on the Steve Davis Trophy but it is worth remembering that the 41 year-old has struggled to turn weekend appearances at ranking events into silverware lately.
Standing in his way of a berth in Sunday’s final is the ever-improving Anthony McGill, who won the last three frames to beat Neil Robertson 5-3 on Friday.
McGill, a two-time ranking event winner from last season, has been underlining his consistency during this term with five quarter-final appearances or better from the seven rankers.
Unfortunately for the Scot, McGill comes up against a formidable competitor that he has failed to overcome in five previous attempts.
Indeed, such was the 26 year-old’s lack of confidence in his post-match interview with Eurosport that he rather peculiarly claimed that if he played O’Sullivan in the last four he’d “probably lose”.
Despite his own doubts, McGill probably does boast the kind of game that can sometimes frustrate O’Sullivan, but it’s hard to see the latter falling at the penultimate hurdle when his form has been so solid.
All the headline makers will be desperate for an O’Sullivan win too, as it will keep alive the unlikely chance that the million pound bonus could be contended for by claiming all four Home Nations trophies this season.
Not many people truly think it’s possible but if there’s one cueist who could potentially give it a good run, it’s the former world number one.
In the second semi-final, World Open runner-up Kyren Wilson will entertain surprise package Alexander Ursenbacher.
Such has been the rapid change in the game recently that it was not so long ago that commentators were labeling the likes of Wilson and McGill as the new breed of up-and-comers.
Yet, while that duo settles as regular fixtures in the top 16, a new wave of attacking younger talent from all across the world is already on the cusp of breaking into the higher echelons.
Luca Brecel and the Chinese crop dominated those headlines earlier in 2017 but there’s also the likes of Ursenbacher and Hossein Vafaei Ayouri who are getting themselves into the mix as well.
Iran’s Vafaei fell to Wilson in the last eight but 21 year-old Ursenbacher will have his crack at the World Gold Medallist after a terrific 5-0 drubbing of Michael White.
The Swiss shooter, who regained his tour card this year courtesy of his European Under-21 Championship success, has been enjoying a meteoric rise up the pecking order of late.
Ursenbacher came within a single victory of qualifying for the World Championship as an amateur and has clearly continued that form into this season.
How he’ll be able to perform while making his semi-final debut in front of a big crowd on centre stage will be interesting to see, but he hasn’t seemed too fazed so far and it’s brilliant to watch a player do so well from a new country that is not your typical snooker hotbed.
It’ll be tough going against Wilson, though, who is turning into one of the best all-round forces in today’s game.
Wilson probably represents the biggest overall threat to O’Sullivan this weekend but, interestingly, lost 5-4 in his only prior encounter with Ursenbacher back in the 2014 Wuxi Classic.
Both Ursenbacher and Wilson are very different pretenders compared to even just three years ago, and the former will be looking for another fast start if he’s to have a chance of dismantling the English 25 year-old in the first semi-final on Saturday.
Coverage continues on Eurosport and Quest TV.
Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)
Categories: Snooker News