John Higgins and Barry Hawkins boast narrow advantages heading into the final day of the semi-finals in the 2018 World Snooker Championship.
Four-time champion Higgins upped his game in the third session to withstand the improved challenge from Kyren Wilson and maintain the same two-frame cushion that he held after both the first and second sessions of play.
At 13-11 in front, Higgins requires just four more frames for a victory that would offer him a seventh Crucible final and second in a row following his close defeat to Mark Selby in last year’s title decider.
Higgins and Wilson each struggled badly in a drab second session bereft of much quality but the standard markedly improved when play resumed on Friday evening.
The pair traded frame winning contributions in almost all of the eight frames, with Wilson particularly scoring heavily – knocking in a brace of tons to add to his earlier 140 total clearance compiled in the early stages on Thursday.
However, every time the Kettering cueist, featuring in the last four in Sheffield for the first time in his career, got to within a frame of levelling, the vastly experience Higgins dug deep to pull away again.
There were times, especially at the start of the day, when it looked as though fatigue might be catching up on the Scot but Higgins didn’t let that bother him, going on the practice table in between sessions to sort out his game, and he will still be a clear favourite going into the concluding bout on Saturday afternoon.
Wilson will have to pull off something extraordinary, not only to first pull level but also to then forge ahead and overcome the four-time champion with not many frames left to play for.
But the fact that the 26 year-old is still in there with a fighting chance is testament to his temperament and character, and he proved in the semi-finals of the Masters how he can recover from the brink of defeat amid highly pressurised situations.
There’s a two frame gap in the other semi-final encounter as well with Barry Hawkins 9-7 in front of Mark Williams overnight.
Just like at the climax of the first session, Williams took an important final frame of the second session to crucially avoid going four frames down.
After recovering from 5-2 down to restore parity at 6-6, it appeared as though the two-time champion was going to take control of proceedings as his opponent began to miss more often.
However, Hawkins won a succession of close frames after the mid-session interval, including a superb doubled pink in the 15th frame, to establish a three-frame advantage again before Williams knocked in a timely 62.
Hawkins already looks set to perform better than his last three semi-final displays at the Crucible, when he failed to reach even ten frames, and it’ll be difficult for Williams, looking to become the oldest champion since Ray Reardon in 1978, to fend off his challenge.
The Welshman will be looking to secure a fast start to the third session but Hawkins will be a tough nut to crack and isn’t demonstrating the same kind of frailties that saw him turn in limp performances at the business end of proceedings in recent years.
Either way, a couple of close and dramatic finishes could be in store for both semi-finals, which would be good for a tournament that hasn’t really lived up to expectations until this point.