Ronnie O’Sullivan remains the heavy favourite after the UK Championship semi-final line-up was completed on Friday in York.
The defending champion, who is bidding for a record-breaking seventh UK title, made light work of the inexperienced Martin O’Donnell in the last eight.
In fact, all four quarter-final encounters proved to be one-sided affairs with Mark Allen, Stuart Bingham, and Tom Ford comfortably advancing at the Barbican Centre.
The latter will represent O’Sullivan’s next opponent after continuing his surprise run with an assured 6-2 triumph over Joe Perry.
Ford has been a professional since the start of the millennium and reached the final of the Paul Hunter Classic in 2016, but in general his career has been one of a journeyman.
A talented break-builder, highlighted by the fact that he has compiled three maximum breaks in competition play, Ford has often lacked the preparation and dedication required to step up to the next level.
This run to the UK Championship semi-final is easily the best display of his career – only the third time he has reached this stage of a ranking event and the first time he has ever been beyond the last 16 of a Triple Crown tournament.
Ford, who could make an unlikely late bid for an invitation to the Masters if he can pocket the £170,000 winner’s cheque on Sunday, will probably need to produce the performance of his life if he’s to progress any further, though.
Against O’Sullivan, the 35 year-old comes up against a player who has coasted through the last three rounds while still not playing anywhere near his full potential.
Playing a member of the elite is difficult enough but the task only seems to escalate when it is O’Sullivan on the other side of the table as he possesses an aura that often leaves his challengers starstruck and unable to offer their best game.
For Ford to have any chance of causing what would be a sensational upset, he’ll have to hold himself together despite never having experienced any situation quite like this before.
The Leicester man did win a pair of minor-ranking events back in the PTC days at the beginning of the decade but it’s hard to envisage anything other than O’Sullivan moving one step closer to a 19th Triple Crown trophy.
In his fifth event of the 2018/19 campaign, O’Sullivan hasn’t once failed to reach the semi-finals and duly went on to collect silverware in both the Shanghai Masters and Champion of Champions invitationals.
In the second UK Championship semi-final clash on Saturday, Allen and Bingham will do battle after hammering Stephen Maguire and Kyren Wilson respectively.
There was once a time when they pair didn’t see eye to eye after derogatory comments about Bingham were made by the Northern Irishman prior to the former’s maiden ranking title success in 2011.
However, these days there is a mutual respect for one another and any sense of this being a grudge match has long since passed.
Allen, who made his 400th career century break en route to a 6-1 thrashing of Maguire, is bidding to start the year as he began it – by claiming a Triple Crown event.
The Masters champion has discovered a level of consistency this year that has often been lacking from his game, in a long-term sense at least.
Winner of the International Championship last month in China, Allen arguably represents the biggest threat to O’Sullivan this weekend.
Bingham, of course, will have a lot to say about that and the 2015 world champion has been in fine form of late himself.
Capturing the English Open title in October was the highlight in a topsy-turvy 12 months period for the 42 year-old that began with a suspension for betting and resulted in him missing York and Ally Pally last season.
Bingham has faced Allen on eight occasions with the record at four victories apiece, but they haven’t crossed paths with one another on the circuit in more than three years.
As that statistic suggests, this UK Championship semi-final is a tighter prospect to predict but Allen’s newly acquired confidence in his ability to prevail in the bigger moments could be the difference.