When eight becomes four and two becomes one as the World Snooker Championship semi-final stage is embarked upon at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
A quartet of contenders will battle it out for glory over the next few days under the single table set-up, when the venue truly comes into its own as being one of the best in the world.
The table-fitters are already hard at work in their efforts to dismantle the two tables, before another is quickly assembled in its rightful centre stage under the starry lights of the arena where the dreams of any snooker player or fan originate.
A pair of former champions and a couple of pretenders to the throne await in line to succeed Mark Selby as the world champion for 2018.
It might not be the most inspiring last four line-up that there has ever been but it’s hard to argue with the fact that the foursome who remain fully deserve to be where they are.
Four-time champion John Higgins completed the picture late on Wednesday evening after a triumph of titanic proportions against Judd Trump, a match that finally provided the tournament with some much-needed edge-of-your-seat entertainment.
The quarter-finals promised to throw up four close encounters but the three that went before produced runaway winners in Mark Williams, Barry Hawkins, and Kyren Wilson.
When Trump led Higgins 7-3 and later 11-9 in a gripping affair, it appeared as though the Englishman was going to send out a message to the remaining competitors that he intended this to be his year to finally threaten for the trophy again.
But Higgins fought in trademark fashion, refusing to wilt even after his opponent produced a gutsy clearance in the penultimate frame to force a decider.
The Scot wasn’t to be denied, barely missing a ball in the final few frames as he edged Trump in a dramatic and tense classic, on the same day as he memorably overcame the 28 year-old when he last lifted the world trophy aloft seven years ago.
For Trump, and for Ding Junhui as well, who was hammered by Hawkins following a disappointing display, the wait for a maiden crown in Sheffield goes on for yet another year, fuelling suspicions that their potential might ultimately go unfulfilled at the Crucible over the long haul.
Where Trump and Ding struggle to live up to their pedigree, Higgins is an obvious example of a player who has mastered the ability to utilise everything from his arsenal and stay at the top for as long as possible.
If the 42 year-old were to reach the final this weekend, it would come a full 20 years after his first appearance in one, when he captured number one of his four World Championship titles that have spanned three different decades.
Before all that, Higgins will have to overcome Wilson, arguably a player shaped from the same mold in terms of possessing a brilliant all-round game.
Wilson is the only man left standing who will not understand what it’s like to compete under the conditions of just one table, which could have a huge impact on the outcome of the tie.
Higgins would be the favourite at any rate and, given the experience that he has in Sheffield and the fact that he hasn’t lost a World Championship semi-final fixture since the year 2000, Wilson will likely have to settle straight away to have a serious chance of upsetting the odds.
The duo met last year in the quarter-finals, a match in which the “Wizard of Wishaw” prevailed in with a comfortable 13-6 scoreline and it wouldn’t necessarily be a huge surprise to see another one-sided outcome materialise on this occasion.
One positive thing in Wilson’s favour is the ease in which he dispatched of Mark Allen, gaining a modicum of revenge for his painful Masters final defeat to the Northern Irishman in January, in a match that ended early on Wednesday afternoon compared to the late and taxing conclusion to Higgins’ epic battle with Trump.
That said, Higgins did win his second round clash against Jack Liwowski with a session to spare and there’s only one scheduled session of eight frames on Thursday, so it’s unlikely that he’s going to feel totally worn out.
With a brace of quarter-final appearances and now a semi-final run to boot, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Wilson will have an influence on where the sport’s major trophies land in the coming campaigns but this could still be a year or two too soon for the 26 year-old.
On the other side of the draw, two-time champion Mark Williams is back at the business end of proceedings for the first time since 2011 after an assured triumph against Ali Carter.
The Welshman will face a player who has an unbelievebly consistent record at the Crucible over the last few years.
In fact, the stats highlight that by reaching a fifth World Snooker Championship semi-final in the last six years, with 18 wins Hawkins has remarkably won the most matches of anybody in Sheffield during that period – including three-time champion Selby.
The 39 year-old must feel continuously underestimated but perhaps that’s working out well for him and, in fairness, he’ll again be considered the underdog by most onlookers in his bout with Williams.
A lot of the evidence would point towards a victory for the champion from 2000 and 2003, who would record the biggest gap between World Championship titles if he were to triumph come Monday night.
Williams has a far superior head-to-head record over Hawkins, having never lost to the Englishman in five previous battles with one another.
Compounding matters for Hawkins are his dismal showings at the semi-finals stage in his last three attempts as he has never managed to even reach ten frames in the long four-session best of 33 frames match.
The three-time ranking event winner will be hoping that Williams feels the pressure after such a long spell away from this scene but, after ending a prolonged wait for a 19th ranking title earlier in this campaign, before adding another for good measure with a crushing victory in the imposing Tempodrom at the German Masters, it’s difficult to see the 43 year-old succumbing to the nerves.
Then, what is it that’s being suggested – a John Higgins versus Mark Williams final in a throwback to a previous era?
It would be quite amazing if it occurred but the signs have actually been there all season after a year that has been thoroughly dominated by the infamous “Class of ’92”, snooker’s Trinity.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, with his record-equalling five ranking titles in a single term, may have crashed out but Higgins and Williams have claimed another six trophies between them since last summer and a meeting between the two legends would probably be as fitting a climax as any.
Pingback: QUIZ! World Snooker Championship Semi-Finals - SnookerHQ