Snooker legends Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins remain on course for a clash in the UK Championship final after emerging from their third round encounters on Tuesday in York.
The pair represents two of only four top 16 seeds left in the last 16, a record low for the second biggest ranking event on the calendar.
The majority of the marquee names have already fallen by the wayside and the door has been left ajar for a grandstand finale between the two most successful competitors currently on the Main Tour.
O’Sullivan features in the bottom half of the draw and will continue his quest for a record-equalling sixth crown against Akani Songsermsawad, who thumped Barry Hawkins in a whitewash win.
The “Rocket” has never met the Thai in professional competition but will be expected to safely negotiate the hurdle and reach the quarter-finals at the Barbican Centre.
Also in O’Sullivan’s section is a gaggle of familiar names but none that the 42 year-old, who celebrated his birthday on Tuesday, will likely be too concerned about facing.
Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen is the only other seed and the 2011 runner-up takes on Joe Perry, a two-time semi-finalist.
The duo has a very even head-to-head record but Allen has prevailed in their last three fixtures with one another and on current form will be the favourite again to progress.
Meanwhile, an interesting all-Scottish battle sees Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott, conquerors of Liang Wenbo and Judd Trump in the last round respectively, tackle each other for a last eight berth.
Dott enjoys the marginally superior head-to-head record but it’ll be intriguing to see what kind of form Maguire, the champion 13 years ago, can bring to the table.
The five-time ranking event winner has had a tendency in recent years to start tournaments strongly before falling away in a drab and disappointing defeat, but there is an opportunity here for him to go deep in a major again and a dangling carrot of potentially squeezing into one of the last remaining Masters spots as well.
O’Sullivan’s immediate opponent should he overcome Songsermsawad, also known as Sunny, would be a date with either Martin Gould or Xiao Guodong.
In the other half of the draw, Higgins is the natural favourite to progress to the weekend, especially after a confidence-boosting triumph over the in-form Yan Bingtao.
The Scot’s section does feature a couple of proven winners from this campaign, though, so his path perhaps wouldn’t be as straightforward as O’Sullivan’s run to a possible final.
Higgins’ next challenge is Mark King, a player he has only lost to five times in 25 prior duels, so he’ll be expected to at least come through that test – although King has looked strong this week and will be buoyed after accounting for Luca Brecel in the last 32.
Elsewhere, Shaun Murphy is the other obvious prime candidate to get himself into the mix, come the business end of proceedings.
The Champion of Champions, in which he superbly beat O’Sullivan in the final to lift the trophy, of course, faces a resurgent Ricky Walden.
There have been signs recently of a return to some kind of form for Walden but usually his wins of late have materialised more out of a battling nature than anything else.
It was pleasing for his fans then that his surprise 6-2 victory over Kyren Wilson included breaks of 116, 82, 69, 56, and 50.
In the top quarter, Riga Masters champion Ryan Day appears well placed to reach the single table set-up for the first time in his career.
The Welshman, who is currently holding onto the last qualifying place for the lucrative Masters in January, meets the much-improved Li Hang before a potential quarter-final affair with either Mark Joyce or teenage hot-shot Lyu Haotian.
Live coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport.
Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)
Categories: Snooker News