Ronnie O’Sullivan is the standout favourite as just four remain in the hunt for the Champion of Champions title this weekend in Coventry.
The Englishman compiled a hat-trick of centuries on Thursday, bringing his career tally to just shy of 900, as he inflicted heavy drubbings on a pair of fellow former champions, Neil Robertson and John Higgins.
The Champion of Champions, with its elite field of event winners from the previous twelve months on the calendar, is a tournament that is well-suited to the “Rocket” as he prefers testing himself against the very best in the game.
As he so eloquently put it in his post-match interview, “I love this tournament, it’s a numpty-free zone.”
If you’ve been in the wilderness for the last couple of months and don’t know what that’s in reference to, O’Sullivan, never shy of stirring up a little controversy, referred to a portion of the tour as numpties who couldn’t play in a recent social media post.
In all seriousness, though, O’Sullivan is generally at his best when he can play in front of a big home crowd with plenty of prestige at stake and a high-quality field assembled – highlighted not only by his prior form in this competition but also by his record seven Masters triumphs.
The five-time world champion’s opponent in the semi-final will be old practice partner Anthony Hamilton, who surprised many by emerging from the first quarter of the draw way back on Monday despite nursing a permanently injured back.
The German Masters champion said in the immediate aftermath that he didn’t mind getting “pumped to zip” as long as he got the chance to play one of the snooker gods in O’Sullivan or Higgins.
One of the most liked characters on the circuit, the 46 year-old is already exceeding expectations and would have been thrilled to have even been included in such a lucrative event so late in his career following his emotional maiden ranking success in Berlin.
Hamilton, a heavy scorer when he gets going, is no mug and could give O’Sullivan a tricky game if things go his way, but it’s very difficult to see him ultimately prevailing in a best-of-eleven match with the 41 year-old.
The duo hasn’t crossed paths with one another in six years, but O’Sullivan boasts an ominous 9-2 winning record from their previous meetings.
That fixture takes place on Friday, before Murphy and Brecel battle again on Saturday in a repeat of their China Championship showdown in August.
In fact, Murphy and Brecel have met on several occasions over the last few seasons with many of their contests proving to be memorable duels for one reason or another.
The Belgian got the better of their Guangzhou final to claim his first ranking title at the age of 22 but overall their head-to-head stands at four wins apiece.
Aside from O’Sullivan’s routs, Brecel has arguably been the standout performer of the week so far with victories over Judd Trump and world champion Mark Selby to his credit.
The “Bullet” is enjoying a breakthrough campaign that has seen him break into the top 16 in the world rankings for the first time and he’s beginning to show glimpses of the damage he might be able to do in the sport in the years to come.
Despite the smaller top prize on offer, a triumph in the Champion of Champions would perhaps even exceed his impressive win in China this summer and could elevate him to almost superstardom status.
Murphy, who recorded his first ever wins in this tournament on Tuesday to reach this stage, will obviously represent a difficult upcoming challenge and the Gibraltar Open champion will feel he owes Brecel one having been overturned in four out of their last five meetings.
Yet, one suspects that either Hamilton, Murphy, or Brecel will have to produce something special in order to deny O’Sullivan his third Champion of Champions success.
Live coverage continues on ITV4, other international TV networks, and on Facebook.
Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)