Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui will clash in a mouthwatering fourth round fixture as the 2019 UK Championship gathers momentum in York.
The “Rocket” lost his first frames of this year’s edition but managed to see off the challenge of Noppon Saengkham in another fairly routine outing.
Ding was ultimately made to work harder for his 6-4 triumph against Ali Carter but there were encouraging signs for the former champion who has been badly struggling for form.
The Chinese star compiled a brace of century breaks in a win that could prove to be more important than simply reaching the last 16.
Ding has risen to 14th place in the provisional Race to the Masters standings and only a bizarre set of results would have the 32 year-old miss out on a place at the Alexandra Palace next month.
By contrast, it was a double blow for Carter with Stephen Maguire’s 6-2 success over Graeme Dott ensuring the “Captain” will agonisingly miss out on a Masters spot.
Gary Wilson is also in the hunt to qualify for London, setting up a clash with Judd Trump’s conqueror Nigel Bond after a 6-1 thrashing of Joe Perry in which he constructed a pair of tons, but the World Championship semi-finalist needs to embark on a run to at least the final at the Barbican Centre.
For O’Sullivan and Ding, their clash is an early treat that comes prior to the obvious excitement that will be generated towards the climax of the tournament.
The defending champion is naturally going to be the favourite but, despite the one-sided scorelines, hasn’t been playing at his best and could falter if pushed by a dangerous opponent.
Ding is as dangerous as they come but in recent times hasn’t demonstrated the kind of pedigree that saw him capture the second of his UK Championship titles a decade ago.
If ever Ding needed a morale-boosting defeat of a top player, it’s now, and he’ll be thinking what better way to do it than against one of the most successful players in the history of the game.
Unfortunately, O’Sullivan and Ding’s head-to-head record doesn’t read prettily for the latter – in fact, Ding has only four victories of note in a 15-year span.
🚀🗣 #baizeofglory @betway pic.twitter.com/vekpaHkTiz
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) December 3, 2019
Two other Chinese cueists are in the same mini-bracket with Liang Wenbo, who is bravely playing on despite mourning his mother’s death from last week, taking on Li Hang.
Yan Bingtao also features in the top half of the draw with the Riga Masters champion next in action against one of the overall favourites in Neil Robertson.
Three-time winner John Higgins and former world champion Stuart Bingham compete as well in what is the other standout match of the fourth round.
In the bottom half of the draw, last year’s runner-up Mark Allen is the man best poised to take full advantage of Trump’s premature demise.
The Northern Irishman faces Kurt Maflin with either Wilson or Bond to come in a potential quarter-final meeting.
Elsewhere, 2004 champion Maguire will look to consolidate his position in the top 16 when he takes on Michael White.
White, who previously knocked out Mark Williams, staged a terrific comeback on Tuesday when he fought back from 5-2 behind to deny Mark Davis in a decider.
Finally, Mark Selby and Matthew Stevens encounter each other in another battle of the former champions.