Mark Selby remains on course for a morale-boosting defence of his China Open title after emerging unscathed from his opening few rounds in Beijing.
The “Jester” has only made three appearances in the quarter-finals of ranking tournaments this season in what has been the world number one’s worst spell in years.
However, there have been signs this week of a return to form for Selby, who won the lucrative International Championship in November and who seems to have a canny knack of finding his form at the bigger tournaments.
Selby hasn’t had it all his own way in each of his three victories so far in the Chinese capital but his scoring has improved, with four centuries already in the bank, and his trademark battling qualities appear to have been rekindled.
The 34 year-old, who will head to Sheffield later in the month seeking a fourth World Championship crown in five years, will meet Lyu Haotian in the third round of the China Open – one of five home players still left in the draw.
The others from the strong Chinese contingent include former champion Ding Junhui, Zhou Yuelong, Cao Yupeng, and amateur Luo Honghao.
Luo was one of the wildcards for this event but has beaten the likes of Anthony McGill and Stuart Carrington en route to the last 16 and is already destined to join the pro ranks next season after his recent success in the WSF Championship in Malta.
The 18 year-old will face Tom Ford for a place in the last eight while the other three encounters that feature Chinese competitors all look on paper as though they could be ranking event finals.
Ding, looking for a first title since capturing the World Open last summer, meets Kyren Wilson, Zhou entertains Neil Robertson, and Cao – twice a runner-up in ranking events this campaign – plays a man on the comeback trail in Barry Hawkins.
One of the key subplots of this week’s China Open is the Race to the Crucible, with the players battling it out for the last remaining top 16 positions in an attempt to gain an automatic ticket to the Crucible later in the month.
While dozens of players started the tournament in the mix, the permutations have been whittled down to include only eight players and the mechanics are relatively straightforward now.
Maximum man Stuart Bingham guaranteed his World Championship place by edging passed Ricky Walden in the last 32 on Wednesday, meaning only Ali Carter or Mark Allen can slip out of the elite bracket.
Masters champion Allen can assure his own spot and move in front of Carter, who previously lost in the first round, with a victory over Welshman Mark Williams but, even in defeat, only six players could potentially break into the top 16 and they all require the £225,000 champion’s cheque to do it.
Graeme Dott, the 2006 world champion, plays Bingham while Jack Lisowski and Gary Wilson clash in what is a terrific opportunity for either of the English pair to reach the business end of a major tournament.