Ronnie O’Sullivan heads a strong Welsh Open semi-final quartet as the last Home Nations event of the season reaches the business end this weekend in Cardiff.
The “Rocket”, a four-time champion in Wales, at times looked somewhere near his best again as he thumped Mark Selby 5-1 in the last eight.
O’Sullivan began and ended the contest nervously, but the damage was done in the middle frames when the former world number one made quick-fire contributions of 142, 95, and 85.
The sport’s current top ranked competitor is out, though, as Judd Trump fell in a 5-3 reverse against Shaun Murphy.
Neil Robertson’s bid to reach a fourth ranking event final in succession is also over after the jaded Australian finally succumbed in a 5-0 defeat to Kyren Wilson.
Yan Bingtao, on the eve of his 20th birthday, is the other cueist still in the hunt, the Chinese through to a first Welsh Open semi-final at the expense of John Higgins.
Saturday’s opening last four clash will pit O’Sullivan against Wilson in an all-English battle.
Neither player has produced their highest standards this season so far, on a consistent basis at least, and they are both in search of a first ranking success this term.
O’Sullivan’s victory over Selby does at least mean that he has risen into the top 16 on the provisional Race to the Players Championship list, although he’ll be hoping to earn a few more pounds to safeguard his spot in Southport with the unpredictable Shoot Out still to come next week in Watford.
The 44 year-old boasts a superior head-to-head record against Wilson, last beating him in September en route to defending the invitational Shanghai Masters.
But the pair’s last two ties, including the Champion of Champions final in 2018, have been close and each required a deciding frame.
After reaching back-to-back semi-finals, Wilson appears to be discovering his mojo at just the right time of the season but O’Sullivan has grown into this event and will be a hard man to stop now.
Of course, the latter is now just two wins away from an unprecedented 37th ranking event triumph, which would finally see him eclipse Stephen Hendry’s long-held record of 36.
Can anyone stop Ronnie O’Sullivan from claiming the @manbetxofficial Welsh Open title in Cardiff? 🤔@KyrenWilson is his next opponent, having whitewashed man of the moment Neil Robertson in the quarter finals.
— World Snooker Tour (@WeAreWST) February 14, 2020
On the other side of the draw, Murphy faces Yan in a showdown between two players who have already etched their names onto silverware this season.
Yan captured the Riga Masters way back in July for his maiden win at this level, while Murphy emerged victorious in the China Championship.
There are several supplementary ranking lists at the moment for various upcoming tournaments and it can all get a little confusing.
But one of the most important of them all is the Race to the Crucible, with the top 16 on the official world rankings list after the Tour Championship guaranteed an automatic spot in Sheffield for this year’s World Championship.
Yan is hunting down one of those places and collecting the £70,000 champion’s cheque on Sunday would see the teenager just about dislodge Ali Carter in 16th provisionally.
Murphy has his own agenda and is on the cusp of reaching a fourth final of an event on this season’s calendar.
All five of Murphy and Yan’s previous encounters have been close affairs, with there never being more than a frame or two between them in the final scoreline.
It promises to be a fascinating penultimate day at the Motorpoint Arena.