Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, and Judd Trump are among the eight players who have reached the Northern Ireland Open quarter-finals at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
The trio of stars emerged from two rounds on Thursday to reach Friday’s last eight, where the format will increase from the best of seven frames to the best of nine.
It marks the first time in a Home Nations series event that world number one Selby has been beyond the third round having previously suffered early disappointments in both the English and Welsh Opens in recent seasons.
But the China Championship winner has been in superb form while making his debut appearance in this tournament, compiling a brace of centuries to beat Hamza Akbar before overcoming the improved Martin O’Donnell in the last 16.
Selby will face Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the first of the Northern Ireland Open quarter-finals after the unpredictable Thai raced through his contests with Chris Totten and Robbie Williams.
After scoring a terrific 145 total clearance in his first win of the day to match the highest break of the event so far, Un-Nooh thumped Williams 4-0 in just over half an hour thanks to tallies of 138, 104, 99, and 65.
Un-Nooh, who averaged just 14 seconds per shot, boasts a great deal of talent but has never properly fulfilled his potential on the Main Tour.
Against Selby, he comes up against a formidable opponent who he has only beaten once in four attempts, suffering a 5-0 drubbing when the pair last encountered each other in last year’s German Masters.
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, is in the same half of the draw so there could be a mouthwatering semi-final prospect of the “Rocket” against Selby to come on Saturday.
First, though, the recent Champion of Champions is tasked with the challenge of facing David Gilbert, who has shown glimpses of the form that saw him come within a single frame of lifting a maiden ranking title at the World Open in August.
O’Sullivan, who notched up another ton on day four to bring his overall career tally to 972 and creep ever nearer the thousand milestone, unsurprisingly possesses a far superior head-to-head record against Gilbert and indeed has never lost to his fellow Englishman.
In the opposite side is Trump, who hammered close pal Jack Lisowski 4-0 before a come-from-behind success against Belgium’s Luca Brecel.
Trump has blown hot and cold throughout 2018, often flattering to deceive as he begins events with a bang before exiting unexpectedly in a whimper.
The 29 year-old exudes plenty of confidence but, such is his undeniable talent, he needs to support this with trophies and a year without silverware is too long for someone of his pedigree.
The former world number one will face Ryan Day in what is an even looking clash on paper, substantiated by their prior contests that have been shared between them with a couple of wins apiece.
In fact, it was only a few weeks ago at the English Open when the duo last crossed paths, with Ryan Day producing a scintillating display of power scoring to beat Trump 4-2 on that occasion in Crawley.
— Ronnie O’Sullivan (@ronnieo147) November 15, 2018
The winner of this tie will face an unfancied player of sorts in the last four as veteran Peter Ebdon meets unheralded Eden Sharav in the other Northern Ireland Open quarter-finals match.
Ebdon surprised many with a run to the final of the Paul Hunter Classic earlier this term and, even then, it was mostly expected that it would be a one-off return to the limelight for the 2002 world champion.
Yet, defying a failing back that is threatening to bring forward his retirement to the climax of this campaign, Ebdon scored heavily to record a brace of 4-1 scorelines over Mark Davis and Li Hang on Thursday.
The 48 year-old will even start his last eight fixture as the favourite as he faces a cueist who will be making his first appearance at this stage of a ranking event after upsetting home favourite Joe Swail and shocking four-time ranking event winner Ali Carter.