There were big shocks on Thursday as the UK Championship quarter-final line-up was completed at the Barbican Centre in York.
Former champions Judd Trump and Ding Junhui both crashed out in the last 16 stage, leaving the top half of the draw wide open for defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan to take advantage.
China’s Ding, who hasn’t played much this season and has struggled for form when he has, produced another abject display as he crumbled to a tame 6-4 defeat to Martin O’Donnell.
Trump, a recent winner of the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast, compiled a century but was beaten by the same margin by Joe Perry.
In the evening session, English pair Kyren Wilson and Stuart Bingham enjoyed routine victories over Barry Hawkins and Sunny Akani respectively.
While the bottom half of the draw is loaded with multiple ranking event winners and top 16 members, the opposite bracket has been dismantled by a series of unexpected results.
Reigning champ O’Sullivan, who would make it a record-breaking seven titles if he were to emerge victorious on Sunday, faces the much-improved O’Donnell in his UK Championship quarter-final encounter.
O’Donnell has been a professional since 2012 but until 2018 had never reached the last eight of a ranking event.
Since a Snooker Shoot Out semi-final appearance in February, O’Donnell has gone from strength to strength with this UK Championship quarter-final appearance supported by two other last eight runs in the China and International Championships since the summer.
Martin O’Donnell is enjoying the best season of his career so far, having just reached his third ranking quarter final after toppling Ding Junhui.
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) December 6, 2018
O’Donnell will be thankful for that recent experience but nothing will fully prepare him for what will be his first ever match against O’Sullivan on one of the biggest stages the sport has to offer.
The “Rocket” has been ruthless since surviving a scare against Ken Doherty in the second round and will be the overwhelming favourite to not only overcome the challenge of O’Donnell, but also go on and reach at least the final this weekend in York.
In fact, O’Sullivan is currently the 4/6 favourite with Betfair in the UK Snooker Championship betting guide ahead of Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson, who the 43 year-old recently beat in a dramatic Champion of Champions final in Coventry.
O’Sullivan is also tipped to win the upcoming Masters in January, with Betfair offering odds of 9/4 for the seven-time winner to add to his haul at the Alexandra Palace in London.
The other fixture in O’Sullivan’s section sees Perry take on Tom Ford in a match that will guarantee a surprise semi-finalist.
Perry, runner-up in October’s European Masters, would represent less of a shock obviously and the 44 year-old, who has tallied seven tons in this tournament so far, has always boasted a dangerous game on his day.
Against Ford, he comes up against a player who has never really threatened at the business end of any big event in his career – aside from an appearance in the final of the Paul Hunter Classic in 2016.
The pair share a relatively even head-to-head record but Perry boasts considerably more experience at this stage and will feel that this is a huge opportunity to reach the last four for the third time.
Both men will naturally be focusing on the task at hand but one additional incentive to play for is the last invite to the Masters.
A run to the final would see Perry usurp Jack Lisowski in 16th place in the provisional Race to the Masters standings while Ford requires the title to upset that order.
Meanwhile, the bottom half of the draw arguably provides a couple of more intriguing UK Championship quarter-final encounters.
The tie of the round has Mark Allen up against Stephen Maguire as the Masters champion seeks to maintain his bid to end the year as he began it – by collecting a Trople Crown trophy.
Both Allen and 2004 UK champion Maguire emerged from dramatic last 16 ties on Wednesday that went the distance against formidable opponents so they ought to be up to speed with the quality necessary to advance at this stage.
Peculiarly, for two players who have consistently featured in the top 16 in the rankings throughout the last decade, Allen and Maguire have clashed only three times.
Allen, the International Championship winner, will rightly be considered as the favourite considering his improved form in general this year but Maguire is always a dangerous and unpredictable challenge – highlighted by his devastating come-from-behind triumph over Mark Williams.
Former world champion Stuart Bingham and Kyren Wilson will contest the remaining last eight match on Friday.
All four prior meetings between the Englishmen have gone the way of Wilson, including their most high-profile affair in the second round of last year’s World Championship.
Wilson is proving to be one of the most consistent young competitors in the game but his lack of silverware is something that is preventing him from being truly regarded as an elite member of the higher echelons at present.
Runner-up to O’Sullivan in the Champion of Champions, the stage is set for a possible rematch of that tight tussle at the Ricoh Arena but there’s still a long way to go between now and Sunday at the Barbican.