Four ex-champions are still in contention at the UK Championship quarter-finals stage at the Barbican Centre in York.
However, it’s not the line-up that many would have predicted with every former winner of the competition since the very outset of this decade fallen by the wayside.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, bidding for a third UK Championship on the spin and a record 37th career ranking crown in all, suffered a 6-4 defeat to a resurgent Ding Junhui.
It was arguably Ding’s best performance for the best part of two years as he took the game to the defending champion in an attacking, gung-ho battle.
China’s Ding, who first triumphed in the UKs as a teenager in 2005 and sealed a second success four years later, will face countryman Liang Wenbo in the last eight.
The latter’s first appearance at this stage of a ranking event for almost three years is made even more remarkable due to his brave participation following the death of his mother last week.
Liang briefly returned to his homeland for the funeral before flying back to England to continue in the competition.
Three victories later and the former English Open champion faces a friend who he has partnered to World Cup triumphs for China.
It’s a difficult match to predict because Ding, after a dreadful spell of form, is finally beginning to look like his old self but Liang has the extra emotional motivation of playing in honour of his mom.
A relatively even head-to-head record, including their last two matches which have both went the distance, would suggest too that this could be a close one.
Ding will at least feel safe in the knowledge that, by overcoming the “Rocket”, his place in the prestigious Masters is now guaranteed.
The top half of the draw additionally features John Higgins, the only player with a history of winning the event during this decade.
One would have to go all the way back to 2010 for that glory, when he famously fought back from suspension and a 9-5 deficit against Mark Williams in the final to prevail in a dramatic decider.
Higgins, who has won the tournament three times in total, meets another Chinese cueist in the form of Yan Bingtao.
After quotes from Neil Robertson surfaced on the eve of his fixture with Yan that he felt he could “steamroll” opponents, it was somewhat humorous to see the Australian receive a 6-1 hiding at the hands of the 19 year-old.
Yan, who wasn’t alive when Higgins lifted the UK trophy for the first time, emerged with his maiden ranking title in Riga earlier this term and is potentially one strong performance in a major event away from his complete breakthrough.
There have been plenty of false dawns with regard Chinese snooker in the last 15 years but logic would suggest that, with the wealth of young talent from the region on the Main Tour at present, that at least one of them will reach the higher echelons soon.
Yan is the player best poised and will fancy his chances against a Higgins who has been fortunate in many ways to reach this stage, given the mediocre standard he’s produced.
Meanwhile, there’s a splattering of renaissance in the bottom half of the UK Championship quarter-finals draw.
Stephen Maguire, the winner 15 years ago, faces 2003 champion Matthew Stevens while veteran Nigel Bond is in the mix too with the 54 year-old in action against Mark Allen.
Maguire’s run shouldn’t necessarily come as a huge shock as the Scot generally performs well in this tournament.
In fact, this is the tenth time that he has reached this hurdle since his victory in 2004.
Any showdown between Maguire and Stevens these days will inevitable raise the debate as to which one has been the greater underachiever in the sport.
Both have undoubtedly carved out solid careers but perhaps will be disappointed to not have left more of an impact in the history books.
Maguire will obviously be the favourite but Stevens will be buoyed by his recent displays, including a standout, albeit arduous, ousting of former world number one Mark Selby.
Like Ding, Maguire is almost guaranteed a return to the Alexandra Palace next month barring a specific outcome that sees his quarter-final opponent beat Yan in Sunday’s final.
Nigel Bond, at 54, has become the oldest UK Championship quarter-finalist in 39 years. Fred Davis was 67 when he reached the last eight in 1980 #baizeofglory
— David Hendon (@davehendon) December 5, 2019
Finally, Northern Ireland’s Allen has been quietly going about his business as he attempts to put right his painful runner-up finishes from 2011 and last year.
The 2018 Masters champion will certainly fancy his chances against Bond, the oldest player in the UK Championship quarter-finals since Fred Davis reached this point in 1980.
Bond, who upset world number one Judd Trump in the last 32, staged an incredible fight back from 5-2 behind to deny Gary Wilson in his latest outing.
Sadly for the 1995 World Championship finalist, he has never beaten Allen in four attempts so the odds are firmly against him prolonging his stay in North Yorkshire.
Still, this has hardly been a week for straightforward outcomes and Allen is unlikely to take the tour stalwart lightly.
Who will feature at the single table set-up this weekend?
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