English Open semi-final

World Grand Prix: Semi-Final Preview

An extremely high quality quartet will assemble for the semi-finals of the World Grand Prix in Preston this weekend.

World Grand Prix
Maguire will be the outsider but could he spring an upset? Photo credit: World Snooker

The current world number one, two players who have previously stood atop those standings in the rankings list, and an ex world number two make up the impressive group of contenders remaining at the Guild Hall.

Spread out across two evenings of play, the last four comprises favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan against Stephen Maguire on Friday before Mark Selby and Ding Junhui renew their rivalry tomorrow.

Top seed O’Sullivan produced arguably the single best performance of the season so far when he annihilated Xiao Guodong in a whitewash thrashing that included an amazing four century breaks in just over an hour while Maguire earned what was likely a personally enjoyable 5-2 triumph over old foe Shaun Murphy.

Maguire’s run, which will see him collect a minimum cheque of £20,000, will see him narrow the gap in the Race to the Crucible standings, with the Scot lying just outside the top 16 places that will gain an automatic berth at the World Championship in April.

The Scot has admitted that avoiding the dreaded qualifiers in Sheffield is at the back of his mind but the 2004 UK champion will have to be at his very best if he’s to deny O’Sullivan in the penultimate round this week.

O’Sullivan is gunning for a fourth ranking crown of the season and has a far superior head-to-head advantage over Maguire from their prior clashes with one another.

In fact, Maguire boasts only four victories from 20 battles with the five-time world champion and it’s hard to imagine how the 36 year-old can improve on that on this occasion if his opponent maintains the kind of form he displayed in the quarter-final.

On Saturday, Selby meets Ding after the pair put their recent struggles behind them to each reach this latterly stage of a ranking event for the first time since late last year.

The duo has crossed paths in numerous high-profile fixtures in the last couple of years, including twice at the Crucible and two other final showdowns in ranking tournaments in China.

While Ding did prevail in the 2016 Shanghai Masters against the “Jester”, Selby has had the last laugh on their three other notable duels and both of their closely fought encounters at the World Championship.

Overall, though, hardly anything separates them in their history of facing one another, which dates all the way back to their initial tie 16 years ago in the China Open.

Selby won that time and, even though he has only won one additional match in total, he probably possesses the upper hand primarily because of his recent successes over the Chinese number one.

The world champion has been steadily growing in confidence as the week has progressed and it was only a matter of time before he was seen featuring at the business end of competitions again.

Many will be hoping for an O’Sullivan-Selby showdown for glory on Sunday but Ding, perhaps more than Maguire, could be the competitor to throw a spanner into the works.

Either way, it’s a terrific draw and there will be four sessions of snooker to savour over the coming days whatever the outcome.

Live coverage continues on ITV4.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)

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