The Masters semi-finals are set to take place on Saturday with three players bidding to claim the major title for the first time in London.
Only Shaun Murphy knows what it takes to go the distance at the Alexandra Palace, memorably completing the career Triple Crown in 2015.
The “Magician” will undoubtedly be recognised as the bookies favourite but that doesn’t necessarily count for much.
A bizarre tournament so far has been packed full of upsets and there are no players from the top 16 in the world rankings in the Masters semi-finals this year – a first such occurrence since 2011.
Murphy faces Ali Carter in the opening clash on the penultimate day, with the latter reaching this stage of the event for the first time in his career on his twelfth appearance.
Carter, 40, was the subject of some controversy in his quarter-final fixture with John Higgins when, leading 4-3, the Englishman took charge in reversing a decision by the referee after the official had adjudged him to have fouled.
The reaction has been mixed, with most pundits defending the four-time ranking event winner but the majority of fans questioning his behaviour.
Whether or not the incident will have any impact on his focus, heading into what is arguably the biggest match in his career since reaching the 2012 World Championship final, remains to be seen.
While Carter contributed only one break above 50 in his defeat of Higgins, Murphy by contrast has been more convincing with his scoring.
The former world champion must have been buoyed by a confidence-boosting first round victory over world number one Judd Trump, subsequently performing solidly in a routine triumph against Joe Perry.
Interestingly, Murphy has an inferior head-to-head record against Carter, although has been the victor the other two times they have battled in this competition.
Meanwhile, debutant David Gilbert will take on Stuart Bingham in the Masters semi-finals encounter on Saturday evening.
Despite being the player with the least experience at the business end of Triple Crown events, Gilbert is probably producing the highest standard of snooker overall this week.
The 38 year-old was quick out of the blocks against Stephen Maguire, firing in a magnificent 144 total clearance in the opening frame, and generally controlled the affair thereafter.
It’s a surprising fact but first-time Masters champions aren’t as unusual as one would perhaps expect.
Four out of the first six winners lifted the trophy at the first attempt, before Stephen Hendry repeated the trick in 1989 when he overcame John Parrott in the final, commencing an unbelievable 23-match unbeaten run in the tournament.
Then, in 2008 Mark Selby was invited to compete and he too emerged victorious on his maiden appearance.
🗣 David Gilbert: “I wanna win this thing” #DafabetMasters pic.twitter.com/tKvE3RASBe
— World Snooker Tour (@WeAreWST) January 17, 2020
Bingham, of course, will be hoping to put a stop to Gilbert’s ambitions and the 2015 world champion will surely be galvanised following his fight back against Kyren Wilson on Friday.
The 43 year-old trailed 4-1 but a five-frame winning streak helped him to reach the Masters semi-finals for only the second time.
A scarcely believable head-to-head record has Bingham boasting a 10-0 lead over Gilbert from their prior duels.
That king of mental block could prove to be a factor if Gilbert gets near the winning line at any point and, without doubt, Bingham will be aware of the fact that he has the upper hand against this particular opponent.
The 2020 Masters has disappointed up until this point but tournaments are remembered for the latter rounds.
There’s still time for the remaining contenders to replicate the kind of form that earned them memberships within the elite top 16 in the first place.
With a £250,000 top prize and the coveted Paul Hunter Trophy at stake, there’s plenty to play for this weekend at the Alexandra Palace.
Interesting to see steven mcguire’s comments “I couldn’t care less who wins it” this guy has a lot of talent and seemed to be getting somewhere in the UK champs: but fell short in the final against ding.. perhaps if he changed his attitude and worked on his game (as Gilbert has) he would get more out of the sport. Him and ali carter are dragging the game down with their bad vibe/attitudes. o’sullivan isn’t much better most of the time. They treat the ref’s with disdain and mr hearn seems to be unable to keep them in check. In short: this is supposed to be a gentlemen’s game, why are these rogues not acting like gentleman? or being allowed to act the way they do, it is beginning to lose its shine barry..!!