The final of the 2018 Welsh Open will be contested between John Higgins and Barry Hawkins in Cardiff on Sunday.
Neither was at his best in the semi-finals but they each still managed to outfox lower ranked opposition to reach the showdown for glory in the season’s last Home Nations series event.
Higgins eventually pulled away from a gritty Gary Wilson with breaks of 99 and a 106 in the last to seal a 6-2 triumph.
Earlier on Saturday afternoon, Hawkins withstood a spirited effort from Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham, who was featuring in the last four of a ranking tournament for the first time in his career, to prevail with a 6-4 scoreline.
Despite the cull of seeded players that occurred early in the week, the encounter to decide the outcome of the £70,000 winner’s cheque will still involve a pair of top eight ranked competitors.
While Hawkins is searching for the fourth ranking success of his career, Higgins will be attempting to become only the third cueman to reach the number 30 milestone.
The Scot has admitted that the figure has played on his mind since claiming the Indian Open last summer and he is desperate to achieve the feat, which would simultaneously draw him nearer to countryman Stephen Hendry and old rival Ronnie O’Sullivan on the all-time champions list.
It’s been an incredible campaign already from the “Class of 1992”, with Higgins’ sole ranking glory of this term falling short of O’Sullivan’s four titles and the brace that Mark Williams has bagged.
The 42 year-old will undoubtedly start the final as the favourite and a total haul of eight trophies for the season from the trio, at this stage in their careers, would truly be astonishing.
Higgins also has another record in his sights as a victory would represent his fifth in the Welsh Open, more than any other player has amassed in the fourth longest running tournament on the calendar.
Hawkins, though, is unlikely to allow his opponent to have it all his own way and, after a mostly dismal season by his standards, has finally rediscovered the kind of form that saw him win last year’s World Grand Prix.
The 38 year-old candidly admitted to hardships away from the table that have understandably led to distractions on it since reaching the semi-finals of the World Snooker Championship last April at the Crucible.
It’s often too easy for onlookers and fans to forget that these players have private lives and personal problems just like anyone else, and that their form can be duly affected as a result.
Hawkins, who by claiming the top prize could force his way into the running for the 16 places available at the Players Championship later this month, may start this clash against Higgins as the underdog but he has demonstrated enough of an improvement in the last few days to suggest that the outcome can’t be considered a foregone conclusion.
That said, the Englishman doesn’t boast the greatest of head-to-head records with Higgins, having only beaten him twice in the past in meaningful affairs – both over shorter distances.
In fact, the duo’s two clashes over any longer format, both in the World Championship, have ended in comfortable victories for Higgins.
For whatever reason, since the inception of the Home Nations in 2016, the finals have tended to be mostly dramatic with more than half so far requiring the full 17 frames to determine a champion.
Hopefully then, after what has so far been a pretty disappointing and dull Welsh Open, the title decider can go the distance and provide a dramatic conclusion at the Motorpoint Arena.