The field has been whittled down in Guangzhou as the 2018 China Championship quarter-finals is set to entertain the final eight contenders on Friday.
There is a distinct mix of proven winners and inexperienced pretenders throughout the draw, meaning that the final few days in China promise to be full of excitement and intrigue.
By Sunday evening, the fourth ranking event champion of the 2018/19 season will be crowned and a useful £150,000 richer for it in the process.
The top half of the draw couldn’t possibly feature two more contrasting matches with a pair of favourites going head-to-head alongside a couple of competitors relatively new to this stage of competition.
John Higgins, the 2016 winner when the event was originally launched as a lucrative invitational, and Judd Trump boast a collective 38 ranking titles between them.
Awaiting one of them in the last four will be either Chinese young hotshot Lyu Haotian or Martin O’Donnell, with both in with a huge opportunity to secure what would be their biggest career payday.
The latter duo has both featured in ranking event semi-finals before – O’Donnell in this year’s single frame Snooker Shoot Out and Lyu in the Northern Ireland Open – but this run is arguably representing a clear step up in achievement.
While it’s somewhat of a surprise to see O’Donnell make it this far – his victories over defending champion Luca Brecel and most lately Liang Wenbo would perhaps suggest otherwise – Lyu’s presence at the business end is something that has been generally expected for some time.
The 20 year-old is among a growing crop of Chinese wannabes who are attempting to make it into the higher echelons of the sport, with two of his countrymen also in the China Championship quarter-finals on the opposite side of the draw.
Former world under-21 champion Lyu and O’Donnell have crossed paths only once before, in this year’s World Snooker Championship when the former won five frames on the trot to edge a titanic tussle in the qualifiers 10-9.
Higgins and Trump, of course, have clashed numerous times on the big stage and the latest chapter, in a rivalry that dates all the way back to the 2011 Crucible final, promises to be one of the highlights of the entire week.
The Scot boasts the advantage from their head-to-head record and Trump will be looking for revenge after his latest defeat to Higgins at the same quarter-final stage in Sheffield a few months ago.
Trump is infuriatingly inconsistent but the 29 year-old still gives off the impression that he could turn it on at any given time and potentially unleash a wave of success that his pedigree merits.
Both men won’t be naive enough to assume that a win would guarantee a place in the final but neither would they be foolish to neglect the idea that whomever emerges from this quarter-final would be an overwhelming favourite in the next stage against either Lyu or O’Donnell.
YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE
There is a bit of a difference when it comes to the first two QF pairings in the 2018 China Championship…
Martin O’Donnell and Lyu Haotian
0⃣major ranking finals between them
Judd Trump and John Higgins
6⃣5⃣major ranking finals between them pic.twitter.com/gZS7gedbCE
— The Cue View (@ViewCue) September 27, 2018
The bottom half follows a not too dissimilar pattern with another couple of fledgling superstars from the home country squaring up against two of the game’s most familiar faces.
Yuan, only 18 but increasingly looking as though his stock is on the rise, supported his defeat of hero Ding Junhui with a 5-3 victory over Mark King.
Even more impressive was Zhao Xintong’s triumph over world champion Mark Williams by the same margin, taking the last four frames without reply having at one point trailed 3-1 at the mid-session interval.
Zhao, still just 21, dropped off the circuit at the conclusion of the last term but immediately bounced back via Q School and has been a rejuvenated force since.
Yuan and Zhao are embarking on new territory already by reaching the China Championship quarter-finals but to go one step further they will have to overcome monumental challenges in Mark Selby and Barry Hawkins respectively.
World number one Selby out-fought Hossein Vafeai in an interesting battle while Hawkins, a recent finalist in the Shanghai Masters, ousted former world champion Graeme Dott 5-2.