Two wins separate the remaining players from the £70,000 top prize.
Mark Allen will be cheered on by his legion of home supporters as his bid for a maiden Northern Ireland Open glory continued by reaching the semi-finals on Friday in Belfast.
The local competitor conjured an amazing comeback from 3-0 down to end Judd Trump’s 25-match unbeaten run in the tournament at the quarter-final stage.
Allen looked dead and buried but snatched the fourth and fifth frames on the colours – the latter with the help of an enormous fluke – and a rattled Trump, the three-time defending champion, couldn’t subsequently recover.
Ricky Walden will be Allen’s opponent in the last four after the Englishman overcame World Championship runner-up Shaun Murphy 5-4 in a high-scoring battle.
Remarkably, this run represents Walden’s first to the semi-final of a ranking event since 2016 when he featured in that year’s China Open final.
It has been a barren few years for the 38 year-old, but as a three-time former ranking event winner he will understand what it takes to go on and capture the silverware from here.
Allen, whose last ranking success was almost three years ago at the Scottish Open, boasts a marginally superior head-to-head record from their prior meetings in all competitions.
As the top 16 member and with the confidence gained from his usurping of incoming world number one Trump, the Pistol will of course be the favourite but will surely begin to feel the pressure as a triumph on home turf becomes a more credible reality.
On the other side of the Northern Ireland Open draw, the second semi-finals clash will take place at the Waterfront Hall between John Higgins and Yan Bingtao.
The showdown between two players at the opposite ends of the careers marks a repeat of the Masters title decider from the start of this year in which Yan won his first Triple Crown event.
The Chinese cueist has already accounted for one Class of ’92 star this week following his 4-3 victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the last 16, and he backed that up with a more routine 5-0 drubbing of Mitchell Mann on Friday.
Higgins, meanwhile, was not at his best but still had enough in the tank to outscore David Gilbert and reach the single table setup.
While the Scot trails Yan 4-3 in their head-to-head stats, possibly a more interesting tidbit is how the latter has actually won all three of their most recent fixtures – including that 10-8 defeat of the Wizard of Wishaw in the Masters final in January.
Both semi-finals in the 2021 Northern Ireland Open are difficult to call as there are clear arguments for why all four players could succeed or fail in their respective ties.
Allen and Higgins would probably be the most likely pairing to feature in Sunday’s final, but with there being so many close encounters in what has been a dramatic week of action, anything can still happen.
Live coverage in Ireland and the UK continues on Eurosport and Quest TV.
Northern Ireland Open Semi-Finals Draw Mark Allen vs Ricky Walden (1pm) Yan Bingtao vs John Higgins (7pm)
Click here to view the full draw (Times: CET)
Featured photo credit: WST