A fantastic looking last 16 line-up remains in the hunt for Shanghai Masters glory in China this week.
By the end of Thursday’s order of play, only four contenders will remain as the manic schedule continues apace with Saturday’s final showdown in sight.
Perhaps indicative of how the Shanghai Masters is held in such high esteem with both players and the fans, the field assembled is an especially strong one.
It’s unfortunate that the event had to be crammed into such a short space of time following the loss of its regular timeslot in September to the World Open.
However, with a format that boasts the traditional best of nine frames up until the semi-finals and a venue that has produced strong crowds all week so far, particularly in the evening sessions, it’s easy to see why so many marquee names want to emerge with the title.
Of course, the increased prize fund helps as well with the Shanghai Masters now in line with most of the other tier two ranking events on the calendar in offering a £150,000 top prize – almost double what was claimed for last year’s triumph by Ding Junhui.
In the third round, it’s difficult to pick out a standout tie because practically all of them look intriguing in one way or another.
Marks Williams and Selby do battle in a repeat of their 2011 final when the latter controversially won the last three frames to deny the Welshman in a decider.
The winner of that fixture will face either Ronnie O’Sullivan or Barry Hawkins, with the “Rocket” landing confidently on Chinese soil to record a pair of victories on Wednesday despite his disappointing Champion of Champions final loss to Shaun Murphy only a few days previously.
Also in the bottom half of the draw, 2012 champion John Higgins meets Liang Wenbo while Marco Fu and Martin Gould duel in yet another battle of former ranking event winners.
In fact, six out of the eight encounters feature two pretenders who have already tasted success in an important tournament.
The top half of the draw is headed by Judd Trump, who has been imperious in recording his brace of whitewash drubbings over Alfie Burden and Ben Woollaston.
Trump meets Stephen Maguire after the Scot, by contrast, required a pair of 5-4s in order to reach this stage – including a late defeat of former champion Ali Carter yesterday.
The victor from that affair will await the challenge from either the in-form Luca Brecel or former world champion Graeme Dott.
Meanwhile, Mark Allen and Jack Lisowski clash in what could be one of the most eye-catching matches on day four.
Lisowski, who undoubtedly possesses the talent but has been held back through a lack of consistency in recent years, is into the last 16 of a ranking event for the fourth time in succession, and fifth of the campaign.
Allen has similarly been in good nick this term after a season in the doldrums and will be hoping to take advantage of what appears to be the easiest section of the draw on paper.
That’s because at the very top of his bracket is the final match of the round, which includes Norway’s Kurt Maflin and home hopeful Mei Xiwen.
It’s a terrific opportunity for either Maflin or Mei, each ranked outside the top 50 in the world, to reach the business end of proceedings but, given the competition they face from the rest of the field, this might just represent their final in this tournament.
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