Four heavy-hitters will contest the International Championship semi-finals as the second ranking event of the new season reaches its business end in China.
The line-up comprises the reigning champion, two former winners, and a member of the career Triple Crown club – in what is sure to be an entertaining climax in Daqing.
Mark Allen, who stormed to glory in 2018, has arguably looked the sharpest competitor so far in this year’s edition, albeit wasn’t at his best in a hard-fought 6-3 triumph over Ding Junhui on Thursday.
The Northern Irishman knocked out the home favourite despite missing a succession of routine balls when frames were at his mercy.
An in-form Ding would have punished the mistakes but the Chinese number one’s lacklustre run of results in big tournament continued after another disappointing display.
Allen, who dropped only five frames in four matches en route to the last eight, will face close pal Shaun Murphy for a berth in the final.
Murphy held off a spirited challenge from fellow former world champion Graeme Dott, pinching a pivotal eleventh frame on the black before taking the last for a 6-4 victory over the tenacious Scotsman.
Murphy had suffered a slip down the rankings after a dreadful 2018/19 campaign and was in danger of dropping outside the world’s top 16 in the rankings list.
But the “Magician” appears to have rediscovered his box of tricks just in time to safeguard his invitation into next month’s lucrative Shanghai Masters.
Allen and Murphy last crossed paths in one of Murphy’s rare appearances at the latter stages of ranking events last term, when the Antrim man edged the 2005 world champion 9-7 in the title decider for the Scottish Open.
It’s Murphy, though, who boasts the overall head-to-head advantage, leading 10-5 despite losing the last three on the spin.
Allen’s love affair with this tournament, with three final showings since 2014, would suggest that the favourite’s tag still belongs with him.
Mark Allen through to play Shaun Murphy in a best of 17 on Saturday. Selby v Trump tomoz. Not a bad line up I suppose.
— snookerbacker 🗣️ (@snookerbacker) August 8, 2019
In the first of the International Championship semi-finals ties, Mark Selby takes on new world number one Judd Trump in a mouthwatering fixture.
Selby, champion here in 2016 and 2017, edged through in a decider for the second successive outing as he gained a modicum of revenge over Gary Wilson for his Crucible defeat to the Tyne potter in April.
Trump’s scoreline of 6-3 against Tom Ford meant that he had an easier route through on paper, although he wasn’t in as free scoring mood as he had been in the rest of the tournament with only a few half-century breaks to his name.
Winner of the inaugural International Championship back in 2012, Trump is looking to maintain his recent stranglehold on the sport after bagging a maiden world crown in Sheffield in May.
The 29 year-old boasts a marginally superior head-to-head record against Selby and most recently overcame the Leicesterman en route to capturing the World Grand Prix trophy in February.
However, it would be foolish to ever write off Selby and the manner in which he squeaked through the last two rounds would indicate that his master of brinkmanship act has potentially returned to the fold.
An additional aspect that will make both International Championship semi-finals more intriguing affairs is the increased format.
With 17 frames to contend with across two sessions, there’s plenty of time for the players to sink their teeth into the battle – something that will hopefully lead to some memorable drama to enjoy.
That being said, one downside of Ding’s demise is that the crowd levels, which have been mediocre at best throughout the week, could suffer an additional decline for the remainder in the absence of any local interest.
Atmosphere in Chinese tournaments can be hollow at the best of times, but hopefully the prospect of a couple of matches featuring high-profile players can help to conjure up something special over the weekend’s play.
Live coverage of the International Championship semi-finals is on Eurosport.
Click here to view the draw (Times: CET)