Barry Hawkins produced an assured performance to move to within the brink of a place in the World Snooker Championship semi-finals after dominating the opening two sessions against Ding Junhui in Sheffield.
Ding had been instilled as the tournament favourite after the early exits of both Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan but couldn’t reproduce the form that saw him thrash Xiao Guodong and Anthony McGill in the first two rounds.
Hawkins, meanwhile, was as consistent as ever as the Englishman reeled off a succession of frame-winning contributions to establish a seemingly unassailable 11-5 advantage heading into the third and final session on Wednesday.
If the 39 year-old manages to win the two frames he requires to advance, he will embark on a run to the last four at the Crucible Theatre for an incredible fifth time in the last six years.
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It seems as though Hawkins is continuously and unfairly underestimated, especially in the World Championship, despite a quite unbelievable record that would see him notch up 18 match victories in the blue riband event since 2013 – more than any other player, including three-time champion Selby – should he complete the job as expected.
For Ding, it appears as if it’s going to be yet another disappointment in a year that promised so much following the demise of his prime rivals and the manner in which he negotiated his initial tests.
The 31 year-old looked flat for the majority of the contest and was fortunate to only trail by two frames after the first session but couldn’t rectify his form in time for the second bout of play and Hawkins finally seized his opportunity.
A similar pattern developed in the Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson clash on the opposite side of the draw, as the latter orchestrated an 11-5 cushion of his own to edge nearer a maiden semi-final appearance in Sheffield.
In a repeat of their Masters final showdown from January in which Allen captured a maiden Triple Crown trophy, Wilson pulled away from 4-4 to win seven out of the eight frames in a dominant second session.
The Kettering cueist, who beat Allen over the same distance in the last 16 two years ago, will be delighted to gain a modicum of revenge for his painful and emotional defeat to the Northern Irishman at the Alexandra Palace – and his display is even more impressive after suffering tip problems towards the end of his victory over Jamie Jones.
After a second round that produced mostly one-sided affairs with a distinct scarcity of drama, it was hoped that a quarter-final line-up that looked evenly matched on paper would provide the tournament with a much-needed boost in some gripping entertainment.
However, it now seems like at least two of the ties will end quickly and it is down to the remaining couple of last eight fixtures to offer something in the way of drama.
Those matches seem well poised, at least for now, with Judd Trump 5-3 up on John Higgins and a 4-4 scoreline between Mark Williams and Ali Carter after their opening exchanges.
It’s difficult to predict what is going to happen next as this event hasn’t exactly followed the expected formula so far.