China Open quarter-final preview
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China Open: Quarter-Final Preview

A last-gasp clearance of 67 from Mark Williams saw Mark Allen crash out of the China Open in the third round on Thursday, leaving his World Championship fate out of his own hands.

China Open quarter-final preview
Williams has won three trophies this season. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

The Northern Irishman appeared set to complete a sterling comeback from 3-0 down against the three-time champion when he fought back to level and subsequently grabbed the initiative in the decider.

But the 32 year-old unexpectedly missed what was effectively match ball red while on a break of 51 and Williams steeled himself with a wonderful clearance to the black to pinch the win.

It means that Allen could yet become the first Masters champion who is forced to qualify for the World Championship, although only two players can now dislodge him from the top 16 in the world rankings and both Jack Lisowski and Tom Ford require a maiden ranking event title to do just that.

Allen’s defeat was great news for a relieved Ali Carter, with the two-time Crucible runner-up now guaranteed his automatic return to Sheffield later this month.

Meanwhile, Williams advances to the quarter-finals in Beijing, where he’ll face defending champion Mark Selby for a place in the last four.

Selby hasn’t been tested by anyone in the class of Williams yet so it will be interesting to see how the world number one handles the occasion, although the signs have been good this week of a long overdue return to form.

The 34 year-old has compiled a brace of centuries in three out of his four victories in the Chinese capital and it looks as though he is dusting off the cobwebs at just the right time of the campaign with the two most lucrative tournaments concluding this term.

Of course, Selby and Williams faced each other in an entertaining final in China twelve months ago with the former just about prevailing and, back then, denying the Welshman his 2017 World Championship berth.

The pair’s most recent battle came at the Alexandra Palace in January when Williams emerged triumphantly with a 6-5 scoreline and, indeed, a lot of their duels have been close affairs.

Elsewhere, Thursday proved to be an awful day for the home contingent as all five of their remaining players crashed out on a disappointing day for the local support.

Like Allen, Ding Junhui lost on the final black in a thrilling encounter with Kyren Wilson while Cao Yupeng inexplicably squandered a 5-2 advantage over Barry Hawkins to throw away his chances in another decider.

Youngsters Lyu Hoatian and Luo Honghao, the WSF Championship winner from last month and a wildcard for this tournament, bowed out to Selby and Ford respectively.

Ford faces Hawkins in the last eight knowing that just three wins separate him from not only a first ranking trophy but also a coveted spot in the top 16 and a ticket straight through to the Crucible.

Lisowski, whose next fixture is against Wilson, is in a similar position and the duo will be aware that their situation is akin to how it would be at the English Insitute of Sport in Sheffield next week – win three matches and you’re at the Crucible.

Obviously, there’s a different kind of pressure involved when there is silverware as well as a possible champion’s cheque worth £225,000 at stake, but both Ford and Lisowski have at least put themselves into the position to threaten.

The Englishmen face two players already ranked inside the top 16 with Ford looking for only a third win against Hawkins from eight previous attempts.

Lisowski, by contrast, interestingly has a superior head-to-head record against the current Masters runner-up, having won four out of his five prior ties with Wilson.

The other quarter-final match is set to be contested between Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham, two former world champions.

Bingham won their last contest in the Romanian Masters just a few weeks ago and actually boasts a 7-3 advantage overall against the Australian so, on that basis, could perhaps be regarded as the marginal favourite there.

Live coverage continues on Eurosport and Quest TV. 

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

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