The 2018 World Open has reached its quarter-final stage with only two top 16 players left in the hunt for glory in Yushan this weekend.
World champion Mark Williams fronts an unexpected last eight line-up that will battle it out for the £150,000 top prize over the coming day.
The Welshman has coasted into the latter phase with a hat-trick of routine victories, the latest a simple 5-1 defeat of Joe Perry in the last 16.
The 43 year-old’s enjoyment of his surprise Crucible success in May has been well documented and there were many who thought that Williams would begin the new campaign sluggishly after suffering the mother of all hangovers.
But the reality has been very different and Williams looks as composed and clear-minded as he did all during last term, which proved to be one of the best of his entire career.
Williams will be the favourite from here to go on and capture what would be a 22nd ranking event title but he arguably has the toughest of all the opponents next in the form of an emerging star in Jack Lisowski.
Lisowski fought back from 3-0 and 4-2 down to upset Masters runner-up Kyren Wilson in a dramatic decider on Thursday to extend his terrific start to this new season following his run to the final of the Riga Masters in July.
The “Dude”, with his lightning pace around the table and an often ridiculous attack-minded approach to the game, is winning new fans with each match he plays and it appears as though, after many years of being labeled as the next big thing, the 27 year-old might finally be ready to join the highest echelons.
Lisowski actually has a superior head-to-head record against Williams, albeit the pair has only crossed paths on three occasions with just one meeting in the last five years to call upon.
Beating Wilson on the TV table was another step in the right direction for Lisowski, who struggled badly in his last two major outings on centre stage, but overcoming Williams would be another thing entirely.
Also in the bottom half of the World Open quarter-final draw are Xiao Guodong, the last remaining Chinese competitor left on home soil, and Noppon Saengkham, who held off a typical Mark Selby comeback to deny the world number one in a tense deciding frame thriller that concluded on the final black.
This could be a huge opportunity for either player to reach the single table set-up with only four prior runs to the semi-finals of ranking tournaments between them.
The signs are definitely in the home cueist’s favour, with Xiao boasting a 5-0 head-to-head record from their other battles with one another.
The other bracket features the other two proven winners still remaining, with Barry Hawkins and Marco Fu the duo predicted to advance to the last four.
Hawkins, the fifth seed, has quietly gone about his business this week, coming in under the radar to set up a clash with fellow Englishman Gary Wilson, who saw off the Irish challenge from Fergal O’Brien in the third round.
For a career that has been so solid and consistent, particularly in the second half of his two decades on the circuit, Hawkins will perhaps be a little disappointed with his return of three ranking trophies.
The 39 year-old isn’t really going to get a much better chance than this of at least progressing to the final and, unsurprisingly, has the upper hand from his three other fixtures with Wilson – although the latter did emerge triumphantly from their last match on Chinese soil in the 2015 China Open.
Fu, meanwhile, is into the quarter-finals of a ranking event for the first time since the 2017 World Championship after a dreadful last season that culminated in him taking time away to sort out an eye problem.
His surgery seems to have done the trick and, now involved with the reputed SightRight coaching stable that has produced two out of the last three world champions, Fu could yet be set to enjoy a run of success in his twilight years.
The Hong Kong star, who recently dropped out of the top 16, plays David Gilbert next after the former International Championship runner-up, who compiled a tournament-high break of 140 earlier in the week, ended Ricky Walden’s challenge in the last 16.
Gilbert’s career is undoubtedly one of underachievement but there is still time for his fortunes to turnaround and there would be no better time to do it than at the outset of a campaign when he could send his confidence sky rocketing with a maiden ranking title.
The 37 year-old has done well against Fu in the past, sharing their six prior encounters and indeed winning the last two that were played over the same best of nine format.
With all that in mind, it’s definitely not the World Open quarter-final line-up that most would have expected, or maybe even wanted, but as ever there’s an intriguing conclusion in store for the this ranking event.