It’s certainly not the semi-finals quartet that people would have been predicting, but it still promises to be an interesting climax to this year’s UK Championship.
There is guaranteed to not only be a new name etched onto the UK Championship trophy on Sunday but also a new member to the esteemed Triple Crown club.
Three out of the four remaining contenders are aged under 30, something that should be seen as a major positive in a sport that is normally dominated in these times by players in their 30s and 40s.
With only two more victories separating each player from the whopping £200,000 top prize that’s on offer for the champion, there is guaranteed to be plenty of tension this weekend at the Barbican Centre in York.
Luca Brecel vs Kyren Wilson (5)
Kyren Wilson is the new tournament favourite for glory after an entertaining 6-5 triumph over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals on Friday.
The Kettering cueist has been within reach of a Triple Crown title twice before, losing in the finals of the 2018 Masters and the 2020 World Championship.
On both those occasions Wilson was the underdog, but he’ll have a different weight of expectation to handle this time, and even though there are tough opponents left in the draw, the 29 year-old will surely never have a better opportunity to break his major duck.
A four-time ranking event winner, the Englishman has been talking the talk in terms of considering himself as an elite player, but he doesn’t yet boast the prestigious silverware to back up those claims.
Against Luca Brecel in the UK Championship semi-finals, Wilson comes up against a player with his own point to prove on the big stage.
It’s remarkable to think that the Belgian Bullet is still only 26 as it seems like he has been around forever – indeed, it’s now a decade since he first turned professional.
Brecel was once tipped to become a dominant force in the game, but through a mixture of questionable dedication and poor consistency it hasn’t quite worked out like that.
There is still a lot of time left for him to live up to the undeniable talent that he possesses, and the recent signs are good that he’s beginning to turn his form around.
The former China Championship winner has certainly been in command of matters this week, losing only three frames in his last three matches in York.
Wilson and Brecel have faced each other six times in all competitions with three wins apiece, so it may come down to who can handle the moment better.
Barry Hawkins (14) vs Zhao Xintong
While the majority of the other seeds have been crumbling around him, Barry Hawkins has been quietly going about his business.
The 42 year-old has reached the semi-finals of the UK Championship without having played anyone from the top 32 in the world rankings, so it’s hard to know whether he has been tested properly or not yet.
But all he can do is beat who’s in front of him, and that’s exactly what the Hawk has done as he moves closer to an unexpected berth in the final and, like Wilson, another crack at securing a Triple Crown success after prior losses in the finals of both the World Championship and the Masters during his career.
It has not been the best couple of years for Hawkins, but the Englishman seems to always have a knack for conjuring up a timely run in a tournament that consolidates his place among the top 16 just when it looks as though it might be in threat.
Of course, Hawkins will have eyes on the silverware now that he has come this close, but his challenger is on course for a breakthrough tournament in which he finally announces himself as a major star.
Zhao Xintong, quite like Brecel in many respects, has long been heralded as one of the most talented players on the circuit.
The Chinese’s victories over John Higgins and Jack Lisowski have proven that his game isn’t just based on style, but he can also mix it with the marquee names on the biggest stages too.
Ronnie O’Sullivan has called Zhao the ‘Roger Federer of our game’ while Jimmy White says that he sees himself in the 24 year-old when he plays.
Hawkins leads Zhao 3-2 in their head-to-head, but their last three battles have all required deciding frames so it promises to be an enthralling affair.
Live coverage of the UK Championship is on the BBC and Eurosport. Click here for other available options around the world.