It’s all to play for at the Alexandra Palace as eight contenders remain in hunt for glory at the Masters quarter-final stage in London.
It’s as difficult as ever to predict a champion with all of the remaining players proven champions in their own right.
Yet, Ronnie O’Sullivan is the obvious candidate as the favourite and will fancy his chances of at least reaching the title decider on Sunday.
Mark Allen’s unexpected early demise at the hands of Luca Brecel, as well as the exit of old foe John Higgins, means that the top half of the draw has opened up a touch for the seven-time champion.
Making his 25th appearance in the prestigious invitational, O’Sullivan has failed to reach the Masters quarter-final on only four occasions and, in fact, has embarked on a run to the final a staggering dozen times.
The 43 year-old began his first round match with Stuart Bingham slowly but shifted through the gears in typical fashion – finishing with a brace of century breaks.
O’Sullivan faces Ryan Day in his Masters quarter-final tie after the Welshman pipped two-time former winner Higgins in a tense tie that went the distance.
Incredibly, this is the first time that the pair has crossed paths outside the Championship League since 2011 – a year in which Day twice got the better of O’Sullivan.
Playing on this stage, however, which effectively represents home turf for the “Rocket”, is an entirely different prospect and it’s hard to see anything other than a routine victory for the world number three.
Brecel’s reward for producing arguably one of his best ever triumphs in ousting defending champion Allen courtesy of a superb display is a meeting with Ding Junhui.
The odds seem to be stacked against the Belgian as he has failed in all four previous attempts against the 2011 Masters champion.
Neither player has been in particularly good form recently so it’s a terrific opportunity for one of them to reach the last four and perhaps kick start their campaign.
Ding is probably O’Sullivan’s prime challenger in terms of ruining the latter’s run to Sunday’s showdown for the winner’s cheque, but the Chinese number one will be looking to rediscover a mojo that has gone walkabout for quite a lengthy spell.
The bottom half of the Masters quarter-final draw will take place on Friday, with two clashes that are perhaps even harder to call.
World number one Mark Selby and fellow Englishman Judd Trump meet in what is undoubtedly the standout fixture on paper.
The duo comfortably dispatched of respective opponents Stephen Maguire and Kyren Wilson on Wednesday to complete the Masters quarter-final line-up.
Selby and Trump have an even head-to-head record with five victories apiece from their ten encounters, but they haven’t met in more than two years.
The former, a three-time Masters champion, has begun to demonstrate the kind of form that saw him dominate for a period in 2016 and 2017, compiling a hat-trick of tons in his impressive defeat of Maguire.
On the other hand, Trump’s win over rival Wilson after what was a much-hyped build-up will surely do his confidence wonders.
At 29, Trump amazingly still represents one of the youngest competitors in the higher echelons but he has actually been in the elite group for the best part of a decade.
Yet, that he has failed to add to his UK Championship title from 2011 in terms of further Triple Crown successes has been a stain on his credibility as one of the very best.
It’s about time that Trump put that right but Selby will boast motivations of his own.
The Leicester man, although still hanging on to the top of the rankings for the time being, has suffered a drop in standard since his record-equalling 2016/17 season that provided five ranking trophies.
Selby, with three titles and another two runs to the final in his first seven appearances, has failed to go beyond the Masters quarter-final stage in his last four outings at Ally Pally.
The final encounter sees 2012 champion Neil Robertson take on Barry Hawkins, the 2016 beaten finalist.
Robertson boasts a marginally superior head-to-head record but his opponent prevailed over the longer distance of 19 frames in a China Open semi-final last year.
Hawkins will likely be the underdog with the bookies but it would be foolish to write him off as he’s a player who you can rely on to perform to a high level.
Australia’s Robertson is, of course, capable of dizzying bursts of heavy scoring and if he starts knocking in the tons for fun, he’ll be difficult to live with.
All four matches could be finals in their own right but there’s still a long way to go before the 2019 Masters champion is crowned.
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