The revamped China Open is down to its final four contenders after another dramatic day of action at the Olympic Sports Center in Beijing on Friday.
Kyren Wilson and Barry Hawkins both emerged with dramatic deciding frame victories over fellow English pair Jack Lisowski and Tom Ford respectively.
Former champions Mark Selby and Neil Robertson were more comfortable winners with the world number one compiling a brace of centuries in eclipsing Mark Williams 6-2 and the Australian firing in six breaks above 60 in destroying Stuart Bingham with a whitewash.
Lisowski and Ford’s demise ensured that the top 16 players who will automatically gain an invite into this year’s World Snooker Championship cannot be altered – although the seeding positions can still change depending on the results this weekend.
In a sense, it’s good for the China Open that most of the distractions have been dealt with and we can now enjoy the conclusion of a tournament that has become the most lucrative to ever be staged outside the UK.
The quartet will battle it out over the next couple of days with the knowledge that a whopping £225,000 is on offer for the top prize on Sunday.
Befitting for a competition that boasts a total prize fund of £1 million, the semi-final stage will be held over the best of 19 frames – only the third tournament on the calendar that utilises two-session encounters before the final.
It adds to the International Championship, which has last four clashes played over the best of 17 frames, and obviously the marathon World Championship itself.
Both of those tournaments have been won in each of the last two campaigns by Selby and the 34 year-old has again appeared to have timed his return to form perfectly for the bigger occasion.
The “Jester” has compiled eight centuries so far in his defence of the China Open – a tournament in which he actually hasn’t lost a match in since a quarter-final reverse against Mike Dunn in 2014.
Selby emerged with the trophy in both 2015 and again twelve months ago, either side of 2016 when he didn’t enter.
After what has undoubtedly been a disappointing season this time around by his high standards, Selby will surely now be the favourite to add another major piece of silverware to his glittering collection.
The China Open semi-final line-up is a strong one but the “Jester” has begun to look like the Selby of old, mixing determined match play snooker with trademark heavy scoring.
Standing in Selby’s way of a return to the final in Beijing is Wilson, in what is a repeat of their semi-final clash in the same event this time last year.
Selby won that day 6-4 and has, in fact, beaten the former Shanghai Masters champion in all four of their previous fixtures.
Wilson, a three-time beaten finalist in events this term, has battled through successive deciding frame thrillers so it will be interesting to see how much he has left to offer against such a formidable opponent.
In the other China Open semi-final tie, Robertson will meet Hawkins after the pair advanced courtesy of hugely contrasting quarter-final wins on Friday.
If Selby’s all-round game seems to be returning to its peak, Robertson’s scoring prowess simultaneously looks to be sharp again as he rattled off runs of 143, 92, 86, 80, 73, and 62 in pummelling Bingham.
Robertson has bounced back superbly from the disappointment of dropping out of the elite top 16 after the UK Championship, a demise that resulted in him failing to gain an invite to the Masters for the first time in a decade.
The Melbourne man won the Scottish Open soon after and his current form, which will see him rise back into the top 10 in the world rankings, will have him count as a dark horse come Sheffield.
Hawkins is another who is on the comeback trail after months in the doldrums – albeit understandably so for him as he had well-documented personal issues to deal with.
The Welsh Open runner-up has an inferior head-to-head record against Robertson and was thumped 5-0 the last time the duo crossed paths just over a year ago.
Hawkins has proved to be somewhat of a master of the longer format at the Crucible in recent years, though, and that experience could play a part in the outcome on Saturday.