Ronnie O’Sullivan survived an absorbing contest with Akani Songsermsawad to reach the quarter-finals of the UK Championship in York on Thursday.
The five-time champion, a huge favourite ahead of the fixture against the 22 year-old known as Sunny, was forced to fight back from behind in an enthralling battle that featured a little bit of everything.
There was quite a lot of interest before the encounter started on whether the distinct clash of styles would have an impact on the outcome and Akani’s laboured approach certainly seemed to have an effect on the more free-flowing O’Sullivan – but the match was played in a good spirit throughout.
Akani, who boasted 4-2 and 5-4 advantages, won many new fans with his relaxed attitude and, only for a huge slice of misfortune in the penultimate frame, probably would have been savouring his greatest career triumph.
The Thai, who compiled a superb 128 break to lead 5-4, was in with a chance to clear in the tenth frame only to pot the green and inadvertently sink the blue when he was trying to remove it from a difficult spot on the cushion.
A visibly stunned O’Sullivan eventually forced a final frame shoot-out, which he managed to emerge from to maintain his quest for a record-equalling sixth UK crown.
The perfect way to end the day
Sunny and Ronnie interviewed together ❤️ pic.twitter.com/6FhlPQGjY5
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) December 7, 2017
The 42 year-old will battle for a semi-final berth with Martin Gould after his fellow Englishman won the last three frames to edge Xiao Guodong 6-4.
O’Sullivan and Gould have met on only three occasions before with a hat-trick of triumphs going the former’s way.
Their only duel over the best-of-11 frames occurred in last year’s Champion of Champions, which O’Sullivan won courtesy of a 6-2 scoreline.
The former world number one will likely be pleased to be facing somebody with a more fluent style of play compared to Akani, who he had to scrape off the table.
Gould has reached this stage for only the second time in his career and he won’t have fond memories of his last appearance when he squandered a 5-1 lead in a spectacular collapse against David Grace in 2015.
Also in O’Sullivan’s half of the draw are five-time ranking event winner Stephen Maguire and Masters runner-up Joe Perry.
The pair probably wasn’t picked by many as likely runners in this championship but it’s still not a huge surprise to see competitors of their pedigree fighting it out at this point.
Indeed, Maguire seems to enjoy the event having embarked on no fewer than nine runs to at least the quarter-finals since 2004, when of course he romped to his one and only major title success.
Perry scored heavily in his 6-4 triumph against Mark Allen in the last round and he’ll be looking to repeat that if he is to overcome Maguire for what would only be the third time in 13 previous matches against the Glaswegian.
The favourite to progress from the top half of the draw is Shaun Murphy, which could result in a repeat of the Champion of Champions final a couple of months ago when the “Magician” pipped O’Sullivan to glory in Coventry.
Murphy made light work of Ricky Walden to book a quarter-final meeting with Mark King, who is into the last eight of a Triple Crown tournament for only the fifth time in his career.
The signs aren’t good for the 2016 Northern Ireland Open champion, though, with just a single win to his credit from nine previous clashes with Murphy.
The latter probably hasn’t been getting enough credit for his form this season, which has seen the 2008 UK champion feature in two ranking event finals in addition to his lucrative triumph at the Ricoh Arena.
Finally, Ryan Day has a huge opportunity to record a maiden appearance in the last four of a major as he takes on Mark Joyce – the lowest ranked cueist still in the hunt for the £170,000 top prize.
Joyce held off a late fight back from teenager Lyu Haotian to progress to the quarter-finals for the first time since his memorable run seven years ago in Telford.
The Englishman will undoubtedly be the second favourite against the Riga Masters champion, but Day doesn’t have that much more experience when it comes to fighting it out at this late juncture of proceedings in major events.
Like the three other head-to-heads, though, one player has dominated the prior affairs and unsurprisingly it’s Day, with six wins from seven bouts, who holds the key advantage.
It’s certainly not the line-up that was expected at the Barbican Centre.
The majority of the seeds have crashed out and the younger pretenders who have starred so far during this campaign, such as Luca Brecel, Kyren Wilson, and Yan Bingtao, were unable to mount any serious sort of challenge.
Experience has certainly won the day until this point, with 34 year-old Joyce representing the youngest player left in the draw.
Still, there’s plenty to play for and it’s sure to be an intriguing conclusion as the remaining contenders battle it out for the title.
Live coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport.
Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)