Ronnie O’Sullivan remains on course to defend his English Open crown after coasting through another couple of rounds at the K2 in Crawley on Thursday.
The world number three has already been in the headlines this week for good and bad reasons, with his boorish criticism of the venue, which he stated smelled of urine, countered by the magnificent maximum break that he compiled in the second round.
O’Sullivan wasn’t quite as good as he safely booked his place in the English Open quarter-final but a brace of 4-1 triumphs over Matthew Stevens and Eden Sharav were more than enough to keep him in the hunt for glory over the weekend.
The 42 year-old, who is making his first appearance of the season in a ranking event and who hasn’t lost a match yet this term following his triumph in the Shanghai Masters a month ago, will meet Luo Honghao on Friday for a semi-final berth.
Luo is continuing the growing trend of seeing at least one member from the large crop of Chinese competitors feature in the latter stages of events in the last year or so.
A winner of the inaugural WSF Championship earlier this year, which guaranteed his spot on the Main Tour as a professional for the first time, Luo scored an impressive double against Anthony McGill and Neil Robertson.
Luo will undoubtedly be a massive underdog against O’Sullivan but one slight advantage that he may have over the five-time world champion is the fact that they have never met before and that the former, making a debut appearance at this stage of a ranking event, will have nothing to lose.
Also in the top half of the English Open quarter-final draw are Ryan Day and Mark Davis, who caused upsets in the last 16 when they ousted Judd Trump and John Higgins respectively.
Trump had looked in good form as he scored heavily to reach the fourth round but it was his opponent who made the eye-catching breaks as Day knocked in runs of 136, 132, and 83 to power into the last eight.
Higgins, meanwhile, has admitted this week that he is struggling for motivation after a pair of painful defeats in the finals of World Snooker Championships, so his somewhat premature exit perhaps wasn’t as much of a surprise.
Day has a superior head-to-head record against Davis but the latter, a three-time Six Red world champion, has been open about his desperate desire to claim a ranking title before his career ends and might see this as one of his final opportunities to do so.
On the other side of the bracket, there are three multiple ranking event champions who have an enormous chance to add to their tallies on Sunday, where a £70,000 top prize and the Steve Davis Trophy is up for grabs.
Former world champion Stuart Bingham and Ali Carter face off in an all-English battle on home turf after they both emerged from one tight decider and one more comfortable outing on day four of the first Home Nations event of the season.
The pair joined the pro ranks at a similar time and enjoyed a similar enough progression up through the pecking order to ultimately become permanent fixtures of the top 16 over the last decade or so.
Since their first clash 16 years ago, Carter has enjoyed a marginally better time of it with the “Captain” winning eight out of their 14 matches in total – albeit Bingham has triumphed the last three times the duo has crossed paths since the same stage of the Shanghai Masters two years ago in China.
This fixture is the hardest out of the four English Open quarter-final ties to call because it’s the only one in which there is no clear favourite to go on and reach single table set-up.
While Carter and Bingham chase a fifth ranking crown of their careers, Scotland’s Stephen Maguire will be attempting to finally break free of that tally after more than five years without etching his name on silverware.
The 37 year-old, who has often been down on his game and his chances of being a top player again, has recently rejoined the top 16 in the world rankings and beat Jordan Brown before hammering Zhou Yuelong 4-0 in the fourth round.
Maguire will play Noppon Saengkham after the Thai continued his magnificent start to this term that also saw him reach the semi-finals of the World Open in July.
Saengkham, who is eyeing a spot in the top 32 for the first time, has surprisingly beaten Maguire in three out of their prior five contests, although those all came in the earlier stages of tournaments.
Once again, there’s an interesting mix of experience, youth, champions, and pretenders but as things stand it’s hard to see beyond O’Sullivan landing another ranking trophy and drawing nearer to Stephen Hendry’s all-time record of 36.